MONDAY, MAY 11, 2009
I am a wife of nine years to my husband Norm and a mother of four children. Ansel is seven years old, Noah is six, Josie 4 and Levi 2. It has been a year now since I was first diagnosed with a baseball sized cancerous tumor, positioned at 9 o^clock on my cervix. My life is forever changed!
I first have to thank my gynecologist Dr. Frields. Because of his thorough and diligent exams, my condition had only advanced to a stage 2B instead of a stage 3. It all started with a slightly abnormal pap-smear test. Standard practice would have been to wait six months and then to retest. Not standard practice for Dr Frields. He keeps going until he gets an answer. One of the tests he performed was a colonoscopy. It didn^t look too bad under the microscope, but out of precaution Dr. Frields took biopsies at nine o’clock on the cervix. We were shocked with the the results, as it was diagnosed as "adenocarcinoma in-situ", an advanced case of pre-cancer. The next week Dr. Frields had me come in for "conization", or scraping off of the bad cells. When he began the surgery, the condition of my cervix was such that he could not proceed. He took more biopsies at the area of detail on the cervix. The results presented us with our second shocker, it was cancer! Adenocarcinoma class1, stage 2b, well differentiated. In plain English it was a cancerous tumor the size of a baseball positioned at nine o’clock on my cervix. It had been stealthy growing for years! The tumor likely started through my last two pregnancies. One doctor said the changes in my cervix may have started in my late teens. The scary part is, I was consistent with getting my yearly pap-smears and they were all clear (with the exception of one pregnancy) until April 2007, which only read slightly abnormal, yet I actually had a monster of a tumor alive inside of me!
After Dr. Frields^ explanation of my condition, my question for him was,” is there hope?” "Absolutely" was his assuring answer. My tense body gave way to more relaxed position. That Monday started the wild ride to fight for my life and the introductions to the characters who would fight alongside of me. As Dr. Friedman, (gynecologist-oncologist) did a pelvic exam, sweat formed on his brow. The tumor was unusually large he explained, but he had a game plan. Chemotherapy and radiation-both internal and external. So we began that phase of the battle... and in I walked to what looked like the cancer headquarters, a very busy medical oncologist office. Doctors, nurses, patients-all moving here and there, it was a lively place. Norm and I stepped into the office of our next commander in chief Dr. B. , where we sat down and mapped out a plan of attack. Dr. B. speaks with energy and enthusiasm. I walked away feeling like we could beat this thing! I was hopeful.
May through August 1 was miserable. The toll of the chemotherapy and radiation were hitting me hard. I suffered. This is a standard treatment and cervical cancer is very treatable. Waves of church members streamed through our house, coming in two shifts a day, to care for the children and me. Laundry ladies, cleaning ladies, drivers and busy moms sharing meals with us. We were carried through this stage in the battle. Bathed in prayers, lavished with love. For most women the story ends here, but not for me. My story has a twist.
After all of my treatments more biopsies were done. Dr. Friedman has me come in to talk about the results. Norm and I sat across the table from Dr. Friedman and his devoted nurse. Levi, the baby, is sitting in daddies arms playing with a book. Then came the devastating news. The cancer is still there alive and well and moving. The first wave of treatment didn’t completely work (it did stop the growth some) so we must bring in the second wave. A pelvic exoneration. A barbaric gutting, just about everything below the belly button is removed. Without this lifesaving surgery, Dr. Friedman explained that I have less than a year to live. With it, I have a ten percent chance at a cure. With death staring me in the face, my faith is revealed. To this potentially devastating news, I boldly reply in my heart that the greater disease that I am carrying is the disease called sin, for which I have a 100% cure- Jesus Christ!! I have the reality of Heaven to look forward to because of my Savior’s death and resurrection. Jesus lived the sinless life I could never have lived and died the death that I deserved because of His Amazing Grace. Yet with this life sentence, I still am in the battle to win and live. The next month sent me on a search to find a more hopeful prognosis that would involve less of a drastic surgery. Approximately seven opinions were introduced including a trip to the Illinois Cancer treatment Centers of America. With the advice of a Doctor friend from church, we were introduced to the next character in my story, a long haired pioneer, Dr Eisenkop, who is one of us (cancer fighter). He fought and won yet still everyday is dealing with the casualties of his own battle with cancer. He is a fighter. I can see it in his eyes. I wanted the opinion of this man, who may offer another option to a pelvic exoneration. You see- a pelvic exoneration is not often performed, because it is not often needed, though it is the standard second line of defense in my situation. Well, I am not a statistic, and my cancer is not the standard. I needed someone brave enough to think outside of the box. Dr. Eisenkop is the man. Yeah! Hope was regained! In October, three days before my daughters fourth birthday, Dr. Eisenkop performed a type 5 radical hysterectomy with bladder reconstruction- a surgery he invented. My bladder and colon were saved. The surgery went well, but once again, the surprises were not over. Positive biopsies on me lymph nodes were found, one was distant. The prognosis on the pathology report read “not good”. Another bad prognosis, yet my hope had not diminished. There in my hospital room, the agonizing question churned in my mind. Do I fight? Having just suffered through a long summer of sickness due to chemotherapy, the question comes up, "Should I do it again, not knowing if it would even work?"^ You see, I began to learn that the monster I had living inside of me was not even seen before (visibly-first hand, only on scans) by my doctors. No one could give me a clear answer because they didn’t know exactly what they were dealing with. While this monster was waging war to take over my body, my heart was debating as to whether I would let it win or not. This is when the Lord did et another work in my heart. The real question now seemed to be, "Do I believe God is able and big enough? Do I have faith?" "Yes!" was the answer I knew, and needed my heart to be convinced of. God is bigger than my cancer. He is in control. "Yes!" God is able to use the means of chemotherapy to heal me. My faith, grounded in the ability and power of God, was the answer to my wavering heart. The real question isn^t if I will get better but when? I believe if I am not "cured" in this life, I will be in the next-where I will be eternally with Christ, in a new, completely "cured" body. Why do I believe this? Because that is what He promises me in the Bible. So now, because of these things, I choose to fight. To pick up my weapons and get back on the front line.
And thank You Lord. I was lead to Dr. Garcia at USC. Yet another character in my story. He was the only on that I have met who has seen this kind of monster before. Only once. Yet hope was once again resurrected! A mild chemotherapy was prescribed , with little side effects. So this is where we are now. Since my surgery, it has not been an easy road. After my surgery I had a fever for about eight weeks, hospitalized, and on Christmas Eve diagnosed with a c-diff infection which I may have picked up in the hospital. The effects of the radiation have also damaged my uterus. I have had two kidney infections, three nephrostomy tubes placed to drain my kidneys, three stints in my uterus and massive pain in the pelvic-thigh region that is relentless and constant, and which I am trying numerous drugs to relieve. Now for the good news: I am "NSD", or "No Sign of Disease"... for now. Bottom line: it hasn^t been an easy year. Nine surgeries, five hospital stays, twelve blood transfusions, and a whole lot of suffering. Yet, praise be to God, through all of this my heart has soared! God has given me joy, peace and strength because of Jesus Christ my friend, my Helper, my Great Physician and Lord. I cant tell you my story without telling you about my relationship with Jesus Christ. It is my story because God is the author of it. It is His story.
This battle with cancer for most of us is not only a battle against this nasty disease, but a battle for hope. My hope has waxed ane waned in this battle, yet my hope has been anchored on the bedrock of a cliff that is higher than me. Jesus Christ is my life, my love, my Savior.
I am only one voice in a ocean of women who’s lives have been forever change by cervical Cancer. Without the support of my husband, caring doctors, family and friends, I do not know where I would be. I am Nichole and this is my story.