When patient CC was diagnosed with stage III cervical cancer, saying she felt unravelled was understating it.
“I was confronted with my mortality.
Suddenly I was thinking of possibly
disappearing from the world. It was a rollercoaster.
And I didn’t know how much time I had left.”
She was getting advice and information from different sources. She had visited local doctors and consulted with hospitals abroad. Friends and family sent her everything from scientific research data to personal stories of people they knew had cancer. She felt overloaded, disorganised, and lost.
It started with lower back pain
Patient CC has always stayed fit and active. She enjoys walking, biking, and water sports including kayaking, paddle boating, and her favourite: dragon boat racing. She always had regular medical checkups, including gynaecology exams. But in January 2019, just after her 40th birthday, she began having back pain. She figured she had hurt herself during kayaking or dragon boat training but the pain was bad and did not go away, so she visited her doctor. In fact, she went from doctor to doctor, who ordered tests and prescribed medications, but nothing helped. Weeks later, after she first sought treatment for the back pain, she visited her gynaecologist. A Pap Smear was recommended in conjunction with a blood HPV test. Results showed she had HPV and abnormal cells on her cervix.
Infection with HPV is quite common. In most people, the body can clear the infection on its own. But sometimes certain strains of the infection are not cleared, and in some cases they can cause cancer over time. There is the HPV vaccine to protect against HPV that is approved for children as young as nine, but it was not available when patient CC was at the age when the vaccine works best.
The abnormal cells from the cervix meant a biopsy was necessary and a procedure was performed to remove these abnormal cervical cells which were sent off to histology. One month later, February 2019, just after the onset of the back pain, patient CC got her test results back and learned she had cervical cancer.
Infertility and acceptance
At the time patient CC was diagnosed, life before was relatively predictable. “Everything in my life was working out,” she said. “I was recently married, had a good job, loving family and friends, and decided to finally try to start a family with my husband.”
Unfortunately, treatment for cervical cancer can affect a woman’s ability to have children. She discussed options with her doctors and with a fertility specialist for ways to protect her reproductive organs during treatment or to remove and freeze her eggs before she started treatment. But the stage and type of her cancer and the location of her tumour made all those options even more complicated.
Patient CC, her husband, and the health care team decided it was not worth the risk. She had to accept that she would never be able to become pregnant.
“It’s one of the biggest battles…one I have challenge with,” she said. “That’s the one thing that has affected me a lot. I am doing everything I can to reverse the negative thinking and not put so much energy into being disappointed. As my doctor told me, ‘There are many options for children after, adopting, fostering; but first you have to be alive.’”
Feeling like Wonder Woman
Three months after patient CC finished treatment, tests showed her tumour had shrunk so much it disappeared from the scans. “I felt like I was reborn,” she said. “I felt like Wonder Woman.” She will continue to have scans every three months for at least the next two years to ensure the cancer does not resurface. If everything continues to be okay, the number of follow-up check-ups after that will go down to once a year.
Three years later, she feels her confidence returning, almost back to her new normal and learning how to feel “whole” again. She has worked hard to regain her strength, starting with 10-minute workouts, and gradually increasing the amount. She practices mindfulness, ensures she maintains a healthy lifestyle and has now taken the reins of helping other women through the process of being diagnosed, all the way to treatment, as a Cancer Patient Navigator with Caribbean Cancer Research Initiative (CCRI). She has gone back to work and the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t turn her whole world upside down. “That cannot happen twice.”
Her advice to newly diagnosed patients, “Fear kills you twice before the cancer can. Conquer the fears by doing your research and trusting your healthcare team. I now feel at peace because I have a plan, even if it returns, I have a plan.”
Share your journey
On February 4th, 2022, Health Plus joins the global community in recognising WORLD CANCER DAY.
We know that every single one of us has the ability to make a difference, large or small, and that together we can make real progress in reducing the global impact of cancer. On February 4th, we call on you, whoever and wherever you are, to play your part in creating a cancer-free world and #ClosetheCareGap.
We encourage you to share your survivor story as we put the spotlight on the various cancers impacting our population. Your story may give someone the courage they need to take that crucial next step and #ClosetheCareGap.
Email stories to: Guardianhealthplus2021@gmail.com