I had cancer and this is my story!
It was nine years ago that my GYN called and told me the results of the pathology report. I sat, unable to breathe, as he told me,”You are cancer free!” All the cancer was removed as a result of the surgery I had on June 25, 2004.
Now, let me rewind and tell my story from the beginning. There are parts of this past year that are so vivid; they are burned forever in my mind. Some of the other parts are still foggy.
It was the end of March 2004 and I was living in Arkansas. I made a trip to the GYN for my annual pap. I was about a month past due but life had been crazy. I have had a history of abnormal paps since I was about 21 years old. They were always treated easily, in the office, with cryosurgery (freezing the abnormal cells). So, every year I was always a little nervous to receive my results. On the way to the appointment I called my mother and told her my fears. She reassured me that it would be fine. During my exam I spoke with the GYN about my fears. He said, “everything looks fine” and I should get a card in the mail with my results in a week. I left the office feeling pretty good. It was going to be fine! I was worrying for nothing!
On April 5, I received a call from the GYN office that I needed to come in and see the doctor tomorrow. I tried to get information about why I needed to come in but the nurse was vague. I demanded to speak with the GYN because this was not how mt GYN normally handled things. The GYN called me back. He was also vague. I demanded to know what was going on. He said he doesn’t like to discuss matters like this over the phone. I said, “What’s the matter?” He was silent. He said my test results came back positive. I was a little surprised but have had ones like that in the past and didn’t worry too much. I did some research for a couple hours trying to find out all the information I could about “positive paps.” I printed off the info, typed up some questions, and went to bed with no clue what would happen the next day.
On April 6th I headed to the GYN’s office, and I was brought back to a room. I didn’t much think of it at the time but everyone seemed sympathetic, their eyes telling me “I’m sorry!” I was oblivious at the time. The GYN came in and sat down. The silence was deafening. The GYN put his hand on my knee. I looked at the girls, then back to him. He said, “I am sorry.” I just sat there, unable to move my lips. He said, “Jenn, you have cancer.” He was explaining to me that it was endo-cervical cancer and was talking about “in situ,” “chemo,” “oncology,” etc. I kept thinking, “WHAT IS GOING ON? I AM 29 YEARS OLD. I CANNOT HAVE CANCER. I HAVE A THREE YEAR OLD AND A 18 MONTH OLD. THEY NEED ME. I NEED THEM. I DON’T WANT TO DIE. THIS CANNOT BE TRUE. IMPOSSIBLE. YOUNG MOTHERS DO NOT GET CANCER. THERE IS A MISTAKE.” I looked at my paper and was asking him the questions I had typed. I was rambling, making no sense. He looked at me and said, “We are way beyond that. You have cancer.” I started bawling. I was hoping for a sense that this was all wrong, a terrible misunderstanding. The GYN discussed the steps that we would take next. We would do a biopsy, a “LEEP,” to determine the depth of the cancer then a CAT scan. Depending on the results I would either be fine, the pap was a false positive – OR I would be transferred to an Oncologist to undergo hysterectomy, chemo, radiation or any combination of the three. He gave me the info about the procedure we would do on that Friday, April 9th, 2004. Then he gave me a prescription for Xanax, to help me “deal with the emotions.” I asked the GYN one last question, “Doctor, am I going to die?” He looked at me and said, “I don’t know. Just go home and love your family tonight.” I could barely walk to the car, let alone breathe.
I do not remember much of the drive home. I remember calling my mom and hearing her cry. I remember crawling into bed. I remember taking a Xanax and that was about it. I recall the girls playing and I remember telling my neighbor about it and her telling me “it would be all right.” I was crying while I was sitting at the table, laying in bed, and in my sleep. My life had changed and I had no control!
The next two days were a blur. I remember friends coming, napping (courtesy Xanax), and crying A LOT. I remember talking to my mom and my friend’s but I could not tell you about what. I was going through the motions but that was it. I remember yellow daffodils. The girls bought me this bouquet of silk yellow daffodils, they were beautiful. They still set on my dresser to this day.
The next day Friday, April 9, 2005, I went to the hospital for my LEEP procedure I remember being so scared. I remember thinking I could die, not today but soon. I don’t remember much else except it was so cold when they wheeled me into the operation room. The surgery went well and I was sent home later that afternoon.
When I got home I called my GYN back home. He called me late in the day. I explained what was going on. He told me to fax my records to him and that he would review them and give me a second opinion. I wanted to make sure I was doing all I could and I knew he would be honest with him. I respect him 110%. After reviewing my records he told me what I need to look for when I get the pathology report back. Look for the word “IN SITU.” That would mean the cancer was contained and had not spread to other organs. He said that if the report came back that the cancer was still “in situ” he would recommend a total abdominal hysterectomy, and chemo (if needed). I told him that I really respected his opinion and so much so that he would be doing the surgery. He informed me he did not have a license in Arkansas. I told him we were moving back home. All was set, on this end. Now, the wait for the pathology report to come back.
The results were in. It took over a week to get the results back (UNHEARD of). The GYN in Arkansas called me at my mom’s. I found myself unable to breathe, I was frozen. The GYN said the reason it took so long to get the results back was because ELEVEN pathologists wanted to look at it because it was so unusual. I stared out the window and watched the girls flying a kite. Would I have many more days like? He said the cancer was in the endo cervix. We caught the cancer very early. He said had I come in a month earlier or a month later the outcome would have been very different. The cancer, he informed me, was “in situ!” WOO-HOO! Now, the not so great news. Though the cancer was in situ the cells were growing and transforming very rapidly. We would need to do a total abdominal hysterectomy to ensure the cancer was completely removed. Then, it hit me. I will never have any more children. I would be having a total abdominal hysterectomy! As hard as that was to hear (and believe me it was hard and still to this day is something I struggle with), it was overshadowed in that moment though by two single words – IN SITU!
I ran outside and hugged and kissed the girls then collapsed in tears! That night we had a big family dinner and celebrated! I called my GYN at home and he was so happy for us! I called everyone I could think of.
I met with my GYN twice before my surgery. I was never so happy to see him. He is an amazing Doctor. I adore him!! We had everything all lined up. I would have a total abdominal hysterectomy, keeping my ovaries if at all possible. We talked about survival rates (near 100% after five years), risks (minimal), and complications (typical things you have with surgery –blood loss, infection, etc.) I felt pretty confident leaving his office. Done!
The night before the surgery I got everything packed and confirmed plans.
June 25, had arrived and I got to the surgery center early. The girls and my parent’s were there. We were taken back to the waiting room. I got changed, my blood drawn, etc. I sat there feeling scared, scared like I have never felt before. The anesthesiologist came in. We talked. Then my GYN came in. He greeted everyone and looked at me. I cried. I told him I was scared and he said it was, “Okay.” I told him I was going to just have him install a zipper where the incision will be. I figured after two cesareans and a hysterectomy I sounded like a great idea. He said that would be fine but we had to split the money for the money we would make when others found out about it. He gave me a hug and said he had to go prep and that he would see me on the other side. The nurse came to get me. I hugged mom and dad. I gave the girls a big hug and kiss. The nurse in the O/R asked me if I knew why I was here. I was perplexed and scared. Jesus I hope YOU know why I am here!! I told her I was here for a tummy tuck and a breast reduction. She returned that same perplexed and scared look. We both smiled and laughed. I got up on the table, laid back with my arms stretched out to each side, and looked up at the light as they put the mask on my face.
The next thing I remember is waking up in the recovery room asking the nurse what time it was. She asked if I “had a big date?” I dozed off and on. I asked her if I was able to keep my ovaries, as I feared being thrown into menopause at 29, and she patted my hand and said, “Yes.” Finally I was wheeled back to my room.
The GYN came in and saw me that first night and shared the results of my surgery with me. It went very well. He did have to burn seventeen cysts off my ovaries BUT I was able to keep them. YEAH! My bladder was attached to my uterus and they had to literally peel the bladder off of it before they could remove it. My bleeding was the lowest he had ever seen! Great! The pathology report would not be back for a couple days though.
The recovery, in the hospital, was tough. I cramped a lot, I couldn’t sleep, and I ended up having constipation from the pain killers. The staff was amazing and so was my family. I was given a pump for my pain killers that first day. Wonderful invention!!
By the second day I got my catheter out and was able to take a shower. I felt weak and SO SORE! I started to move a bit and was ever grateful for the shower! Little did I know the pain killers I was taking can cause constipation. I learned the hard way! I was able to eat by the second day. I was thrilled because they bring food in from the Country Club. The food was delicious but I was miserable. It was better than broth and toast, even if I was in pain!
The last day there I got my staples out. They gave me some pain killers first, just in case. I was never so happy to feel dopey! They took all my staples out and got to the last few and then TROUBLE! It took them over one hour to take one staple out. A surgical nurse had to come in and assist. Oh my stars! The last day I was in the hospital my step grandmother died.
On June 29, I came home. The ride was tough. I felt every little bump! I had set up camp for in the living room. It was complete with books, laptop, fan, phone, paper, and pen. I had friends that came in every couple hours to help with the girls and the household things. I was feeling pretty good and was up moving around a lot and overdid it. At 9:00 PM that first night home I had to go back up the surgery center and get sutures because my incision came open.
June 30, at about 2:45 PM the phone rings and it is my GYN. Here I sit again, unable to speak or breath, aching all over. He told me about the cysts on my ovaries, that I had adenomyosis, and then he said, “Jenn you are CANCER FREE!” I hugged and kissed my girl’s and the tears fell like rain. If I could have possibly jumped up and down I would have. I called my mom and told her and she just started hollering and crying, “SHE IS CANCER FREE! SHE IS CANCER FREE!” It was not only a victory for me but for everyone in my life!!
The recovery lasted several months. I had trouble with the incision coming open, constipation, hormonal imbalances, bladder problems, and fatigue.
I have had to go in and see the GYN every three months for a pap. I received the results of my first pap the end of October 2004. I held the little pink card and started to cry. I opened it up, gasped, and bawled!! My pap was returned NEGATIVE! I have since received numerous pink cards holding the same news!! I have since graduated to yearly cancer check ups.
I still fear going in for my appointment. I am afraid they will find some more cancer, afraid if they do I will not be so fortunate. I hope in time it will get easier but I think once you have cancer you are always afraid it could happen again. You find out you are no longer invincible. Your life changes, your innocence is lost, your world is different. I HAD cancer but cancer did not HAVE me!
June 30, 2013, I celebrated NINE years after cancer free. I am alive, still cancer free, and grateful for every moment of it! I have taken my health back (losing nearly 100 lbs this past year), fallen more in love with my fiance, kicking butt in college, and developed a genuine appreciation for life and love. I am also so incredibly thankful that since my diagnosis they have developed a vaccination to decrease the chances of cervical cancer so my daughters have a chance!! If my story can help ONE person feel not alone, remind one woman the importance of going in for her annual exam, etc then I will be forever thankful! Caner is not a death sentence!
I will end with this amazing quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”
The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.
This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.