Survivors

Survivors
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  • Terri, Santa Fe, NM
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  • I am a cancer survivor
  • April 19, 2005

    For the past 2 years I have been experiencing irregular bleeding through blood clots, no periods for 5 months, or irregular bleeding with periods and intercourse. I have had consistent annual exams, paps, and ultrasounds which showed nothing. After switching to the birth control patch last June my menstrual cycles never regulated. Because I did not receive a clear cut explanation for the irregular bleeding and I was not satisfied when told "Don^t worry about it- your body is changing with age"... I returned to a new gynecologist and I demanded they take biopsies so that I could rule out cancer. Upon examination, my doctor felt a mass and immediately scheduled an appointment for biopsies. On December 28, 2005 my husband and I were informed that all eight biopsies in the cervix and uterus came back as cancer--and the vaginal biopsies showed precancerous cells. The next day I saw an oncologist who diagnosed me with Stage 2B cervical cancer which I found has a 60% 5 year survival rate. The tumor was 7 to 8 cm in size and may have extended into the vagina and the interstitial walls. The following day they did exploratory surgery and found that the cancer was contained in the cervix and uterus-- which could lessen my stage to a 1B2 and increase my 5 year chance of survival to 90%. We were so relieved. My oncologist advised, however, that we could not be sure about the staging due to possible scar tissue outside of the uterus; so he left my staging in the range of 1B2 to 2B. I had a PETscan the following week which did not show metastasis outside of the uterus. A chest port was installed that following week prior to my first chemotherapy that I received on January 11, 2005. I highly recommend anyone undergoing chemo to get a chest port (not an arm port). Both chemo administration and blood work can be given or taken from the port which prevents your veins from collapsing. I use Lidocaine to deaden the skin prior to access and I feel no pain whatsoever- just pressure. My chemo regime started with Cisplatin/Gemzar on day 1 followed by Gemzar on the 8th day of the round for 3 rounds. My biggest side effects are nausea and vomiting, severe headaches, and fatigue. My nausea was so bad at one point that I could not keep water or medications down for 8 days straight and I lost 14 pounds within a week. I have lost most of my hair and the sores from my scalp have moved down onto my forehead. During my last chemo my nurses tried a new anti-nausea medication called Aloxi. It relieved my symptoms for almost 3 days! Last week I had an MRI to determine the size of the tumor and if surgery (radical hysterectomy and lymphectomies of both the pelvic and groin) was feasible. The MRI was a horrible experience; I will not undergo another one without prior sedation. The MRI showed no metastasis; but, the oncologist advised us at that point that both scans are unable to detect masses less than 1 cm in size. This was a shock to us because over the past three months we were of the mindset that this cancer was definitely contained in the uterus, and this was not necessarily so. We have learned over the past four months that nothing is of certainty during cancer treatment. Western medicine is not advanced enough to predict what is really going on in our bodies until the organs are removed and a lab studies it microscopically. Because of this, my husband and I made the decision to continue chemotherapy for an additonal 3 rounds before going ahead with radiation, surgery and more chemo. Initially, my oncologist was pushing for radiation/surgery because the tumor had responded so well to chemo and had shrank the tumor from 7cm to 4cm- making surgery feasible. He changed his mind and agreed that additional chemo would be more advantageous as it would shrink the tumor more and it might kill any unforeseen cancer elsewhere and reduce complications for future radiation. I start chemo again this Friday, April 22nd. After completing chemo, I will probably undergo external and/or internal radiation followed by surgery and additional chemo depending on the surgery results. This progressive treatment is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy. It is not very common in the United States, but- is practiced throughout Europe and it is said to reduce cancer recurrence rates. I had concerns and questions about removing the lymphnodes which may cause serious life changes later on through lymphedema in both legs and constant struggles to avoid infection. I was concerned how it might affect my work; but, faced with life^s uncertainty-- I am confident dealing with those issues and increasing my chances to be there for my family in the long run is more important. I have three kids (4, 5, and 13) who are dealing with this quite well. My husband has struggled with it more than myself; I continue to stay positive through prayer and support of family and friends. At 36, I never thought that this would happen to me; at least, not this early on in my life. It has truly been a wake-up call and has forced me to realize the stresses we focus on in our lives with work, etc... just aren^t that important anymore. I^m focusing on the here and now and constantly trying not to worry what may or may not happen in the future. I am dealing with each issue as it arises. I^m just starting my journey through cancer and I am ready to be in it for the long haul. Please encourage the women you know to get their annual exams and to not settle for unexplained symptoms from doctors. Find a physician who is knowledgable in the latest treatments and clinical trials and is willing to offer you whatever you need to fight this. Depend on family and friends to be there for you; they feel it an honor to be asked for help. Stay strong... and good luck in your journey. God Bless.

  • 09-03 -2005
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