I did something for the first time today. I “researched” small cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer online. It took me a few tries because I still, for the life of me, can’t spell n-e-u-r-o-e-n-d-o-c-r-i-n-e right. Let alone say it. For as awful as cancer is, you think doctors/researchers would at least make it easy on us by naming it something simpler. For those trying to do quick math, it has been 807 days since I was diagnosed but yes, today was the first day I looked up my cancer online. I’ve seen & heard information obviously & I’m part of a Facebook group of sisters who have the same cancer so I’ve of course been exposed to information there but I’ve never proactively researched it. Call it fear, call it denial, call it ignorance is bliss, call it self preservation, call it numbers mean nothing in our fight, call it whatever you want, I’ve never had it in me. Kevin scoured the internet top to bottom & left to right in the days after I was diagnosed. Reading what I read this morning, I feel a physical ache for what he must have been feeling in those days.
SCCC (and LCCC) account for ~1% of cervical cancers diagnosed. To this day, there is no known precancerous state to catch this beast. There are often times no symptoms & that coupled with the aggressive nature of the cancer, women are frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage initially. Survival rates? First word that comes to mind is chilling. Second is sobering when reading these studies and articles.
I didn’t have one symptom, not a single inkling that I had cancer growing in my body. I look at pictures from the time leading up to all of this – we spent a week in Mexico, we celebrated my 30th birthday at the Sox game, we toasted our best friends at their wedding in Florida – so many pictures from all of these fun life events that are filled with so many smiles and yet all I can see now is myself in those pictures and wonder how big those cancer cells were at that moment. I’m about as curious as they come by nature and I would love to know the exact moment my cells started to revolt against me. We found out we were pregnant in mid July and we went to the doctor first at 10 weeks and again at 12 weeks. I had physical exams, ultrasounds, the whole workup & yet there was no evidence of anything suspicious. Looking at just these facts alone, it is beyond me that just four weeks later from that day, we were talking life & death. Just four weeks, a tumor was visible. Four weeks!
What first tipped us off was an abnormal PAP after my first OB appointment. I had a PAP every year leading up to this and every year, they were clear. I got a call a couple weeks later saying that some cells appeared to be abnormal but I was reassured several times not to worry because it was likely pregnancy related. I talked to two of my good friends who had gotten false positive results like this. I knew deep down something was wrong but my gift in life of being able to bury realities with a big smile & a joke sure made it easy to ignore that voice in my heart. Just to be sure though, my OB had us wait until after the first trimester to come in for a colposcopy to double check that everything was fine.
That colposcopy happened on a Friday and that following Monday I was seeing a gynecological oncologist first thing in the morning. Even then, we had no idea cancer was a possibility. Within two weeks we lost our Hallie, I had major life saving surgery & within six weeks of that I started chemo and radiation simultaneously. That’s my (shortened) story with #sccc.
January is cervical cancer awareness month. In between the lines of all the sad and scary of our story, you’ll find me, the world’s most awkward girl. I’ve never been good at talking about anything when it comes to being a girl, I was clearly made for basketball courts & jump shots over fashion & makeup. You can imagine how humbling a cervical cancer diagnosis was for a girl like me because well, you can imagine what every visit, treatment, exam, test, conversation and question is about. I’ve asked my nurses several times why this couldn’t have been skin cancer, as Kevin would always be shaking his head at me for making a joke like that. Fair question though, right?! All this to say, had it never been for Hallie, there’s a very small chance that I’m here today because of that impossible-to-spell type of cancer I had.
No two stories of cancer are the same and no two cases of cancer are the same. While I pray that cancer is something you never have to deal with, the reality is you may. The worst thing that ever happened to me pre-cancer was broken bones. Something like this can never happen to you, until it does. My hope in sharing my story today is two fold. One, it did happen to me, to us, and it’s forever a part of us. We’d give anything, anything, to change that, to have our Hallie and a sense of peace with my health forever restored but we can’t and we won’t in this lifetime. We won’t get the why we like with all we’ve lost but we can find God’s purpose in our story by sharing and connecting, because everyone has a story. Two, I share because if this awkward girl can survive all of this, you can too. Take care of yourself and don’t skip your appointments. If you haven’t been to the doctor in a while, schedule an appointment today! I’m not just talking for a PAP, I mean see your regular doctor too! Sure your insurance just reset but hey, a $15 copay for the opportunity to hear “all clear” is beyond worth it. I’d give anything to mightily celebrate something seemingly so simple! And in the 1% chance something isn’t all clear, like it was for me, life and death with cancer is often determined by how early it’s found so give yourself a fighting chance.