Cervical Cancer Diagnosis

It’s been a challenge, working out how to get these words onto a page.

You see, it’s not a fun or happy story, but it is the reality of the cancer experience. And while I want to talk about the real and hard parts of my journey. What I truly want for Lustre Me is that it provides you with a space to laugh, someone you can relate to, and access to information to support your own recovery. I’ve come to accept that it’s important to share the good, the bad and the ugly. And just because this particular post may not be full of laughs, I hope there is value for you in sharing it.  

Nine months prior to my diagnosis I noticed a minor change in my body.

We all know (or at least I hope we do) that vaginal discharge is a natural function of a woman’s body. It helps keep the vagina clean and healthy. I started to notice a change in odour, not for the better, and the consistency was more like water. At one point I wondered if I was starting to experience some form of incontinence. I was 29 for goodness sakes, far too soon for that kind of business! It made me feel uncomfortable, self-conscious, and I wanted answers. Booking an appointment with a GP, we did all the standard checks. My pap smear results were negative, so we gradually swabbed and tested for all of the things to no avail. Eventually, after several months of checking in with the GP to ask ‘so what do we try next’ I asked to be referred to a gynecologist. 

Because my pap smear was negative, I wasn’t rushed in for a consultation. It was three months before my appointment. No word of a lie, within 20 seconds of the examination commencing, the doctor stood bolt upright and looked me in the eye to say, something doesn’t look quite right. I was given the option to have a biopsy on the spot, or wait, given the additional expense. Thank goodness I just wanted answers and chose to proceed with the biopsy. At the conclusion of my appointment, the gynecologist advised there could be a couple of different diagnoses. It was most likely one of two things that could be treated with a non-invasive water laser. Walking out to my car I had to sit for a moment and process what was happening. Even the thought of the ‘minor’ diagnosis had me feeling overwhelmed.

Little did I know, within 48 hours, that would be the least of my worries.

It was Friday morning in February 2015, two days after my consultation. I was about to park at my office when I got the call from my gynecologist’s office “ we have your results and would like you to come in right away if possible. Please make sure you bring someone with you”. My heart sank as I called a close friend, Sam. I lived an hour from work and I knew my husband would still be in a medicated sleep and realistically unable to drive safely to my location. I arrived at the office ahead of my friend and went in to see the doctor. I couldn’t wait and needed to know. Sitting across from my gynecologist, her words sounded distant, echoing in my ears. All I could utter in response was “are you telling me I have cancer?” She looked at me with her kind eyes and calmly said yes. 

I felt completely numb and with Sam sitting beside me, I called my Mum who lives interstate. I couldn’t really get the words out and so had to hand the phone to my doctor, she was amazing, talking my Mum through my diagnosis and next steps. I would need to go straight for further scans so we could diagnose the stage. Armed with referrals, my husband pulled up outside the office. All he could do was hold me as I sobbed and uttered words of disbelief through lots of tears and snot. 

We arrived at the first of what would be many more waiting rooms. As I steadily consumed litres of water, actively resisting the urge to pee before my scan, I looked around the room. There were four other women in the waiting area. I could tell they were looking at me with kindness and sympathy. I was much younger than them. They had a look of gentle knowing in their eyes. Eventually, one of them asked me what I was there for. As I spoke they smiled softly at me. They each told me they were all at various stages of treatment for breast cancer. With words of encouragement, I was called through. I didn’t know their names or if I would see them again, but at that moment, I didn’t feel alone.  

That weekend consisted of a lot of tears and phone calls to close family and friends.

I’m a sharer you see and I think I thought if I said it enough times out loud, reality would sink in. There were many moments of bewilderment and disbelief. At the time, I was working in a job I loved, studying part-time in my last semester of uni after seven long years, and caring for my then husband – a military veteran. It had already been a tough 10 years and I found myself wanting to give the universe the middle finger and ask, ‘seriously what now, haven’t I learnt enough lessons’? I cleaned incessantly and at one point of frustration I threw the vacuum cleaner across my bedroom. Don’t worry, it was small, and even in my moment of anger I was tactful enough to have aimed for empty space. I just needed to find a way to get the anger out of my body. In retrospect I could have taken a healthier route but in the moment it got the job done. 

Monday morning we drove to the gynecologist’s office with my Mum in tow. This time the biopsy just about made me pass out from the pain. The doctor was direct and clear, something that I guess is important at such a time. She asked if we had children, we didn’t. She asked if we wanted children. I did, he didn’t. She said it was likely I would be Stage 1B and if that was the case they could design my treatment around a pregnancy but that we would need to start trying right away. I would see her again in two days and would need to give her an answer. I left her office still feeling like I was in a daze, surely this couldn’t be my life. The next two days revolved around the conversation of whether or not to try for a child. My husband supported me and said we could try. I had lengthy conversations with my Mum about logistics and how things would play out with a newborn and my treatment. 

I walked into my gynecologist’s office two days later resolute.

I told her we wanted to try for a child. I felt in every fibre of me being this would happen for me. I’m so sorry, she said. You’re Stage 2B and we can’t wait to commence treatment. Stage 2b cervical cancer means that the cancer has grown into the tissues around the cervix. My doctor offered an alternative that she didn’t recommend. But given my age and the fact I hadn’t had children, she wanted to give me the option. The rate of miscarriage would be high and I would have a minor surgery then effectively need to let the cancer progress until I delivered my child. I would really need to drive the process and want it badly. I was told to take a couple of hours and speak with my Mum and husband before coming back and advising her of my decision. Walking out to the front of the hospital, I stood in the warm sun and cried again into my husband’s arms. Composing myself I looked into their worried eyes and told them that I knew in my heart I couldn’t take the risk and wouldn’t accept the option I’d been provided. Their shoulders sagged in relief with them both saying thank goodness, that isn’t what they wanted for me. 

Returning to the doctor’s office I told her I would start treatment right away and not take the option of having a child naturally.

At 29 years of age, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B cervical cancer – Fuck!

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