This may sound a little over-dramatic, but I’m currently dying.
I mean, (spoiler alert) technically we all are. But at the moment I have cervical cancer, and am just finishing all of the tests required before treatment starts. It’s a personal cancer, with intimate details of symptoms. It’s a cancer that begins with invasive screening, and when it’s hopefully cured, some very privately heartbreaking side effects.
All of it may be too personal for print, although in my opinion it shouldn’t be. But suffice it to say that I have been diagnosed with 2B cervical cancer, with involvement of at least one lymph node. This is going to take more than a few visits to the gynecologist to clear up, but I’ll be okay in the end.
As my symptoms worsened, it got harder to be at work. So I’ve been at home for the past month. I’ve been preparing for chemo and radiation, which will take about six or seven weeks once it starts. I’ve been resting and spending time with my family, and napping. And I’ve been kicking myself.
I am acutely aware that I’m in this situation because I willfully neglected my regular pap smears for a few years. Okay, many years.
I had been to the doctor for countless other reasons. I’d even been through a breast cancer scare, but still no pap smear. It’s hard to know how long I’ve had this tumour. Even as I was getting more and more ill over the past seven or eight months, the thought of cervical cancer never crossed my mind.
Over the past month, I haven’t just been sitting around waiting for treatment. I’ve learned things about the disease that every woman should know. We don’t talk about cervical cancer like we do about breast cancer. Perhaps because when we go to the doctor and do the routine screening, it’s caught early enough that we barely have to miss a day of work. Cervical cancer is a slow-growing one, after all, with no early symptoms.
From chatting with friends, I’ve learned I’m not alone in forgoing that annual or bi-annual exam. For this reason alone, I’m eager to share what I’m learning with everyone, because as the commercials currently on TV right now say: “I’d rather be anywhere than here.”
And “here” so far in my journey is countless, painful internal exams, multiple trips to the ER, endless imaging appointments including MRIs, CT scans and even a PET scan in Vancouver. It’s meant consults and hospital tours, all in Abbotsford’s beautiful cancer clinic. It’s included days spent in bed, hours spent in a hot bath in agony from the inside out, thousands of trips to the washroom, a binder that grows with medical paperwork by the week, medication I’ve never heard of, and arms and hands covered in bruises from injections and blood work.
It’s given me my first tattoos, three tiny marks around my hips and pelvis to line me up with the radiation machine.
It’s involved tears, but also love and warmth from friends and family. It’s included access to fast testing, immediate results, and caring doctors and nurses. Each note of positivity, each card in the mail, each kindness to my family, has given us reasons to smile in a time when we could easily retreat into darkness. Yes, this is a world I want to stay in, for as long as possible.
In a few months, I will be post-treatment and looking toward a long life once again. But it didn’t have to be this dramatic, this fraught with emotion and risks and side effects. It could have been caught sooner had I been more pro-active.
So please, book your screening and talk to your doctor about other cancer risks.
Jessica Peters is a reporter with The Chilliwack Progress