On Tuesday, July 31/07 I was told by my oncologist that I am cancer free. My cervical cancer is gone, and my lymph nodes were clear. This was after going through a Radical Vaginal Trachelectomy on June 28/07. I've spent the last 8 mos longing to hear those very words. Here is my story:
In September 2006 I went for my annual physical and pap test. I NEVER miss my pap test. I figure that I am a woman in her child-bearing years and I want to know what is happening in that area of my body. I started going for pap tests when I turned 18, and had never had an abnormal one....until this one. In fact, my GP had suggested that I could even skip a year because they always come back normal. I have never been so happy that I didn't listen to my doctor. In November, my doctor's office called me saying that the results of my pap had come back with medium-grade abnormal cells, and she wanted to repeat my pap test in 3 months. Okay, no problem. Everyone has an abnormal pap once in a while and this was my first. I was sure that my next pap would come back fine. So in January/07 I went back to my GP and she re-did the pap. In February I got another phone call from her office. This pap had come back with high-grade abnormal cells that were considered precancerous. This made me freak a little, but my GP assured me that it took YEARS for cells to change to cancer, so we could definitely treat this before that happened. She suggested that a colposcopy be done and she then referred me to the OB/GYN that saw me while I was pregnant with my daughter. I couldn't get an appointment with her until the end of March so I spent the next 6 weeks trying to focus on the fact that it takes years for cancer to form, so this was all going to turn out alright. A friend of mine had had a colposcopy and that was all the treatment she needed. So that was what would happen to me, right? On March 20 I went for my colposcopy. My doctor took several biopsies during the procedure. It procedure itself wasn't painful, but I did have some cramps afterward. (God Bless Mr. Advil!). I made an appointment to come back and get the results as I was leaving her office. The appointment was in 4 weeks time. Two weeks after my colposcopy, I got a phone call from my OB/GYN's office. It was 6:30 at night, and it was the doctor herself, and I immediately went into panic mode as soon as I heard her voice. She said that my biopsy results had come back "inconclusive, with possible cancer present." I'm freaking out!!! Then she goes on to say that she is referring me to Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, in Toronto. They will review my biopsy results and then call me with an appointment. I hung up the phone barely keeping it together. My husband was out at hockey, and I was the only home with my 2.5 yr old daughter. I didn't want to lose it in front of her and scare her, so I had to keep it together for the next half hour until my husband got home. I can't even begin to describe the thoughts going through my head. It was like there was a voice screaming in my ear "CANCER, CANCER, CANCER." Over and over again. I kept trying to fit logical thoughts in there, like "She didn't say it was cancer. She said inconclusive, which means that maybe it isn't cancer." But then I would think "Well why the hell would I be referred to a cancer centre, if it's not cancer?" When my husband walked through the door, I lost it. He hadn't even had a chance to say hello, and I was an absolute mess. He was very supportive and kept telling me that we didn't really know anything yet, and that we shouldn't worry until we had something to worry about. This is what I love about my husband. He never worries until he's got the proof that he needs to worry about something. I am the exact opposite. I am a complete worry wart (probably because I'm a virgo) and I will worry about the tiniest things! So when something major comes along, I'm automatically in complete panic mode!
Sunnybrook called me 2 days later and told me that my appointment would be on April 25/07, which was 2 weeks away. I was happy that they were able to get me in so quickly, but I wondered how on earth I would manage to stay sane for the next 2 weeks. That day, I discovered Facebook and that was my distraction for the next 2 weeks. I was reconnecting with so many old friends and making new friends that it really did work as a distraction for me. Of course, I am also the mother of a very busy 2.5 yr old daughter, and she is great for keeping mommy's mind busy too!
On the morning of April 25/07, my husband and I walked through the doors of the Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre. The building itself is so beautiful and I remember thinking what a beautiful building for such an ugly, nasty disease. Not that I wanted to go into an ugly building, but it all just seemed ironic to me. The first thing that I started to notice were all the cancer patients who were around me. Sunnybrook is set-up as basically one giant waiting area and then each clinic is off the waiting area. So I was immediately surrounded by people suffering from all types of cancer. Some of them were so frail, and had no hair, and I couldn't help but wonder if this is what the future had in store for me. I was suprisingly calm that morning, and I kept waiting for the feelings of anxiety to creep up from my stomach, but as long as I was holding my husband's hand, I felt calm. The called my name and we were shown into an examining room. A nurse came in and introduced herself and asked me several questions about my overall health. She then informed me that I would be meeting with an oncologist as well as a radiation oncologist. I immediately started to panic wondering why I would need to meet with a radiation oncologist if it wasn't cancer? What would radiation do to my chances of having another baby? Oh god, Oh god!!! I didn't have much of a chance to get into a full blown panic attack because the 2 doctors came in shortly thereafter. They introduced themselves, and started by telling me that every patient is booked to see an oncologist and radiation oncologist, even if they don't need radiation. Thank God!!! The oncologist spoke up and said that the Sunnybrook lab had reviewed the biopsy results and they couldn't determine whether or not cancer was present or not either. He asked me to get undressed from the waist done, and they did an internal examination. I expressed my wish to have another child some day and the oncologist simply said that he didn't think that would be a problem at all. He decided that he wanted to do a cone biopsy, so that he could get a more accurate diagnosis. He also said that most times in precancerous situations the cone biopsy can acutally as treatment as it removes all of the precancerous cells. My cone biopsy was booked for May 1/07. When we left Sunnybrook that day I felt the unfamilar feeling of optimism. It was one feeling that I hadn't had for weeks, and yet there it was. Maybe this was all going to be okay.....
On May 1, hubby and I went back to Sunnybrook for my Cone Biopsy. Man, was I nervous. I was terrifed that it was going to hurt. I knew that it wasn't a long procedure, 10 minutes at most, but I wasn't looking forward to them freezing my cervix. That thought of that was not appealing. My hubby opted to stay in the waiting area, as I was shown into an examining room. Again, I was asked to disrobe below the waist, and get up on the table. I had an amazing nurse there with me the whole time, who told me exactly what to expect. There was a large electrical looking piece of equipment in the corner of the room, and she moved it over toward where I was sitting. She asked me to lay back, and she removed a pad from the machine and stuck it to my leg. This, she informed me, would ground me to the machine.....What??? I must have looked puzzled, because she then went on to say that when the doctor uses the laser to cut the biopsy I have to be grounded to the laser machine. Alright, whatever! The last thing I want is to be electricuted during my cone biopsy!!! The doctor comes in and asks me to get my feet up in the stirrups! The nurse comes over to hold my hand as the doctor inserts the speculum and proceeds to freeze my cervix. I was anticipating big pain, but you know what? Really it didn't hurt at all. Once the freezing set in, the doctor went ahead with the procedure. There was no pain, but I could feel some tugging and pulling. I laid there talking to the nurse and in about 10 minutes the doctor popped his head up to say he was done. I couldn't believe how smoothly that had gone. He inserted this giant tampon into my vagina and told me that it had antibiotic ointment on the inside end of it and that it needed to remain in for the next 4 hours. He asked me if I wanted to see the part of my cervix that he had removed and I said sure! (I'm kind-of a geek when it comes to stuff like this). It was a huge piece of tissue and looked like an upside down ice-cream cone. I was then able to get up and get dressed. As soon as I stood up, the cramps started and they progressively got worse until I got home and downed 2 x-tra strength Advil. I laid on the couch, curled up in a ball, for a few hours until it was time to take the tampon out. Once the tampon was out the cramping decreased significantly! I kept telling myself that this would all be worth it if there was no cancer and he had gotten rid of all the precancerous cells...it would all be worth it!
On May 22/07 my mom came with me to my appointment to get my results of the cone biopsy. I was really in the mind-set that there would be no more appointments after this and that the cone biopsy would show nothing, and acted as treatment for the precancerous cells. My mom and I were shown into my oncologist's office. He came into the room and said "Well Christina, your biopsy showed cancer.." and then his pager went off. He looked at it, and said "Oh I have to get that, I'll be back in a minute." and left the room. I was in complete and total shock! Holy crap, I have cervical cancer. There was that voice again, saying "CANCER, CANCER,CANCER" in my ear. He was only gone for a moment or 2 and then came back into the office. From then on I only remember bits and pieces of the conversation. I think that my brain shut down as soon as he said "Cancer." He told me that the cancer was in very early stages, and that because I am only 31 and still want to have another child, he would like to do a surgery called a Radical Vaginal Trachelectomy (RVT). This involved removing the cervix, and some lymph nodes in my groin. It was this or a hysterectomy. My mom asked if I would need chemo or radiation, and he said no, unless the lymph nodes showed that cancer was present. At this point I must have agreed to the RVT because he said that his nurse would call me within the next few days with a surgery date. He handed me some consent forms to sign. I'm sure that I read the forms, but I don't remember what they said. All I could focus on was signing and getting the hell out of that building so that I could burst into tears!!!! My mom and I both cried walking back to the car, but I kept it together enough to drive us home. I called my husband and he immediately came home from work. I think he was just as shocked as I was. I hadn't allowed myself to even think that this could actually be cancer. I really and truly thought that the cone biopsy would be the end of this. God, would this ever end?? Would the surgery finally be the end, or would this continue on after that even? i spent the rest of that day bursting into tears anytime someone looked at me. The next morning I woke up and decided that I was done crying about this. This was the way things had to be if I was going to survive cervical cancer. Yeah, it sucked, but there was nothing I could about it now. I trusted my oncologist completely and I knew that I was in great hands. I decided to take that day off of work, and head to the mall for a little retail therapy! I vowed to myself that I wasn't going to let this diagnosis turn me into an anxious mess. I refused to live that way.
About 4 days later, I got the phone call with my surgery date. I was scheduled for June 28/07. Holy Crap, that was almost a month away! I immediately started to picture the cancer growing into my uterus and ovaries in this amount of time. I asked to be put on a cancellation list so that I could have surgery sooner, should someone cancel. I HATED the thought of this cancer in my body for another month. I wanted it OUT!!! The month of June passed pretty quickly. I only had a few meltdowns and overall I was pretty impressed at how I was dealing with this. It's amazing how strong you can be when you need to be. On June 22/07 I went to Sunnybrook for my pre-op appointment. I met with a nurse who weighed me and took my blood pressure, which was a little high. (Gee ya think???) She explained to me exactly how the surgery day would go, and just as we were finishing up, I ended up having a complete meltdown in her office. Here we are, less then a week away from my surgery, and it just all of a sudden hit me that this was REALLY going to happen. Maybe I had been in slight denial for the past month, but oh my god, here we are planning my surgery for cervical cancer.
On, June 27/07, the day before my surgery I was required to drink a phosphates solution to clease my bowels prior to surgery. This stuff was the nastiest stuff I had ever tasted. It tasted like milk and lemonade mixed together. Thank god it was only a small bottle that I had to drink. I spent the day in my bathroom, reading all the latest celebrity gossip magazines that my mom had brought me. She had arrived that day and was planning to stay as long as I needed her after the surgery. She felt me jello and chicken broth that day, as that was all I was allowed to eat. I didn't have any meltdowns the day before my surgery. I kept reminding myself that tomorrow the cancer would be OUT of my body and that was what I had wanted since I heard the word cancer over a month ago.
The morning of June 28/07 started at 5:00 for me. I got up, had a shower, and put on my fat pants ( they are so ugly, but are sooo comfortable. Especially during my period when I feel like I'm carrying around an extra 50 lbs of water). My aunt and uncle arrived, as they were going to wake up my daughter, and take her to daycare for the day. at 6:00, my husband, my mom, and I left for Sunnybrook. I don't think I talked for the entire car ride. I listented to my mom and husband make chat away to each other, but I just stared out the window. i kept thinking, the next time I'm in this car, the surgery will be over and I won't have a cervix. Hey cervix, do you realize this is your last car ride? I won't miss my cervix, it really has caused me nothing but grief. When I was pregnant with my daughter I was put on bedrest at 28 weeks because my cervix was shortening prematurely, and now cervical cancer. So you know what....I'm glad that it's being removed! Once at the hospital, they registered me and I was shown into the outpatient surgery area. A nurse came over and handed me my hospital gown and asked me to put it on. Then she came back to start my IV. After 5 pokes and significant blood loss (well maybe not significant), she finally got it in my right hand. I was too the point where I was going to offer to put it in myself if she didn't stop poking me! Shortly thereafter, they came to get me for my sentinal node dye test. They wheeled me down to Nuclear Medicine, and asked me to get up on an examination table. The radiologist came in and told me that he was going to put 4 injections of dye into my cervix. OMG, this was incredibly painful. I almost couldn't move off the table when he was finished because of the cramping. They put me back on a gurney and wheeled me down to Radiology. The cramping was starting to ease off by now, and I was wheeled under this giant machine that took pictures of my abdomen. They gave me a printout to give to my oncologist before the surgery. I was then taken back to the outpaient surgery area to await my surgery time of 12:50 p.m. Well, 12:50 came and went, as I laid there trying to make conversation with my mom and my husband. The nurse finally came in and said that the OR was running 1.5 hours behind schedule. Finally at 2:30, they came to get me. They wheeled me up the OR, where my oncologist was waiting outside of the operating room. I looked at the sign on the door and remember thinking "Hey I'm in OR #9. That's not my favourite number, but it will do." Then I started thinking of all the positive things in my life that have a #9 associated with them. Crazy thoughts, I know, but that is really what was going through my head. The anesthesiologist came out and and talked to me, and then my oncologist came over and asked for the printout from Nuclear Medicine. He looked at it and said "Good, the nodes are very good." I assumed he meant the location of the nodes was good. They wheeled me into OR #9, and put the mask over my face and I was out.....
I woke up in recovery shivering like crazy. The nurse came over and brought me a blanket that attached to a machine that blew warm air into the blanket. It was awesome. She then asked me if I was in any pain, on a scale of 1 - 10. I told her it was about a 7.5 and she promptly got me some morphine. The pain I was feeling was menstrual cramps times about a 1000! My mom and husband were able to come and see me in recovery and we waited there until they had a bed ready for me on a ward. They came with me up to the ward and stayed with me while I got some more morphine. Then I was asleep again.......
I woke up during the night several times as the nurses would come in to check on my urinary catheter and my blood pressure. When morning came, so did my oncologist's resident. My first thought when I saw him, was "Oh God, is he hot!!!" He told me that the surgery had gone extremely well, and that's about all I remember him saying. I'm sure he said more but between him being so good looking and me completely doped up on morphine, I wasn't really paying attention. Shortly after he left, I started having this unbelieveable pains in my shoulders and neck. I called for the nurse because I thought that I was having a heart attack. She came in and just said "No honey, that is pain from the gas they used to bloat up your abdomen during your surgery." I begged for more morphine, and she said that unforunately pain meds don't have any effect on the gas pains. The only way to get rid of it is to burp it out. I couldn't believe this, the pain was unreal and it was taking my breath away. I would rather give birth without drugs, 5 times a day, everyday for the rest of my life then ever deal with that pain again. My husband and mom arrived about an hour later and my nurse came in to show them how to clean and empty the urinary catheter bags. I moved very slowly into the bathroom of my hospital room and the nurse helped me to wash myself and clean all of the iodine off of me. All the while these horrible pains are shooting up my neck and causing me to lose my breath. I looked down before I got dressed and caught a quick glimpse of my 4 abdominal incisions. There was one directly in my belly button, one on the left side, one on the right side, and one right above my pubic hairline. The largest one was about an inch and the others were all smaller. I remember thinking that I just wanted to go home. So after I got dressed they discharged me home. The car ride home was very painful on the incisions, and every little bump felt like a giant speed bump, but my husband was driving as gently as he could. My mother had prepared a bed for me on the couch, as there was NO way I could make it upstairs to my bed. My doctor has prescribed me 2 meds. For pain, I had Oxycodon and for an antiinflammatory I had Naproxan. My husband asked me if I wanted any pain meds, and I said no because at this point my only real pain was the gas pain. The Naproxan could only be taken if I had eaten lots beforehand, and since I hadn't I opted for taking x-tra strength Advil instead.
The next 5 days consisted of laying on the couch with the odd trip to the bathroom to change and empty my catheter bag. The gas pains went away after about 4 days, and I never did use the prescription drugs that my oncologist prescribed. I only took Advil because that was all I really needed. I wasn't in that much pain, and I had very little bleeding vaginally. I bled for weeks after my cone biopsy. Five days after the surgery, a home nurse came to remove my urinary catheter. THANK GOD!!! It was so amazing to get rid of that. I could finally go to the bathroom on my own, without an audience! I could walk without a giant bag of pee following me everywhere.
Recovery was slow and frustrating at times. I am a person who likes to be constantly busy and being stuck at home and on the couch was a little hard. I would take a shower and need a 2 hour nap because I would get tired so easily. My daughter wanted to play, but I just didn't have the energy. I spent my days on Facebook, and watching soap operas. Don't get me wrong, it's nice to veg out, but the novelty wears off after about 2 days, and I had 3.5 weeks of this ahead of me...
On July 31, 2007 I went back to Sunnybrook for my post-op appointment. During my surgery they had put a small catheter in the bottom of my uterus to allow for it to heal with a small hole in it so that I can still have a period and so that sperm can meet up with the egg. On the Friday before my post-op appointment that catheter fell out, which I had been warned about. Normally it would have been removed during this post-op appointment, but there was always the chance that it could fall out before. I was very nervous about my post-op appointment because I was still awaiting the results of my lypmh nodes. I was trying to be optimistic that everything would be fine, but look where that got me after my cone biopsy appointment! My oncologist came in and immediately said that the surgery was a complete success and that the lymph nodes were completely clear! I just wanted to jump up and kiss him!!!! I was cancer free!!! He told me that the chance of it coming back was about 1%. He did an internal exam and then told me that I could resume all of my normal activities again. I was ecstatic! In the car on the way home, I told my husband that I all of a sudden felt completely exhausted, and I think it was because the stress of the last 8 months was finally gone, and my body completely needed a break.
Right now I'm enjoying being cancer-free. I will be followed by my oncologist every 4 - 6 mos, for the next 5 years. Of course at some point during those next 5 years I hope to be able to get pregnant and have another child. My pregnancy will be considered high-risk, and I will have to deliver by c-section, but I feel truly blessed that I am a cervical cancer survivor and can still possibly have another child. Ten years ago, a woman my age wouldn't have been that lucky. Her only option would have been a radical hysterectomy.
If anyone out there has a had a child post-RVT, I would love to hear from you. If you don't mind sharing your experience with pregnancy post-RVT and any advice you might have for me would be much appreciated.
If you've read all this and made it to the bottom then I applaud you! It's a long one, I know!