Coach E-My Cervical Cancer Journey and Survival

Coach E-My Cervical Cancer Journey and Survival

I went in for a routine (and annual) pap smear as most women do and it had come back abnormal. Since I had no symptoms and this can be common, I wasn’t worried but at the same time I was anxious to return to my normal and worry free life.

Three years prior to this I had a very large benign tumor on my ovary that required an extensive surgery to remove along with one of my ovaries. With that case being in my medical history they sent me back to Dana Farber to have this new found abnormality checked out. As soon as I was examined the doctor knew it was cancer (stage 2). She could physically see the mass. This proved two things: it had grown fast, was serious, and needed to be dealt with right away.

Apparently my cancer was a rare case because it took several weeks to decide whether I would be treated with surgery or chemo/radiation. My case was presented to the tumor board and over the next several weeks I met with oncologists, fertility specialists, and my surgeon to decide on my final prognosis.

The location of my tumor made it very difficult to decide next steps. Ultimately, going in for a hysterectomy was the end result. This posed a few other difficult options – I would never be able to carry my own children. That alone was a very tough pill to swallow. Being single at the time and having to never really face a decision like this made it a hard one. Did I even want kids? Would I still be able to have them with a surrogate? How much is this going to cost? I’m not even married or in a relationship right now, who do I talk to about this?

The other worry was going into menopause at the tender age of 34. This would also mean hormone replacement therapy, an impact on my physical health, emotions, mood, and body image. All of this at once was horrifying. During my next step, I was set up with a fertility specialist. We discussed my options before my hysterectomy (which was rapidly approaching). I had the option to freeze and bank my eggs. I needed to take fertility drugs by way of daily injections to boost egg production over a period of 10 days. My eggs would be “harvested” then removed surgically and frozen until I chose or didn’t choose to use them. So the silver lining in this was that I could still have kids but I would need someone else to carry for me. Secondly, there was a procedure where they could “pex” my one ovary remaining so I wouldn’t go into menopause this early and I would continue to ovulate like normal.

I was surprisingly calm throughout this process and maybe it was because I was still in shock that this was happening to me, but I certainly had my moments and breakdowns. The word “Cancer” will never be an easy word to hear.

Once all my steps were in place it was just a matter of staying calm, strong, and positive throughout the process. Looking back, fear is psychological, so theoretically I should be able to understand and handle it. When fear is inside your head it doesn’t seem like it wants to be reasoned into leaving. On the positive side, fear can motivate you to do things you need to accomplish, but giving in to your fears can also be totally debilitating. So life’s real balance is just trying to make your fears work in your best interest. You really have to personally decide if what you genuinely want is bigger than what the hell you’re afraid of. Some people have a real fear of failure, while others have a fear of success that can equally hold you back. Even in the aftermath of my cancer, on a daily basis I deal with my “what if it comes back” fear. That can stop you from living fully in the present and that’s the biggest mistake of all but is very hard to get rid of. One of the toughest lessons we learn in life is how to keep our fears to ourselves while digging deep for all the courage we have, just to share with others. No one ever said that this was going to be easy and I think we are all learning to cope each and every day.

A diagnosis of cancer can also change a family forever. Figuring out what’s for dinner or what your plans are for the weekend is suddenly less important. Family and personal values are questioned and priorities can be tested and changed. I will never forget coming out of my exam room and having to tell my mother and sister that I will never be able to carry children. We all sat there in silence and cried. My family was extremely supportive and checked in on me every free moment they had. Since I live alone I stayed with my parents for a while until I felt strong enough to move around on my own. When you go through something this hard and life changing it really shows you who is important in your life. The peak times in this journey were the people you didn’t expect to check in, deliver cards, send flowers, or even call, text, or email – just a few kind words MADE MY ENTIRE DAY. To know that your friends and family are thinking about you and want the best for you – there really is nothing better.

I’ll never forget a few members at my gym at the time who not only sent flowers, wore cancer support bracelets, and hung up a cancer ribbon in teal and white to honor my fight with this particular cancer. I was truly touched. Even here at KFit where we are able to honor my fight with a workout and awareness each January is absolutely priceless and warms my heart like no other.

I was training for my second Boston Marathon when I got my news. I knew deep down in my heart nothing would stop me from running that race (I was stopped from running the year before due to the terrorist attack). This was a redemption year and even though my surgeon advised against it I knew (and she knew) that nothing would stop me. I was cancer free at the end of March and had only three weeks to train since I had stopped in January before the surgeries. I poured my heart and soul (and wheezing and hamstring tightness) into those next three weeks and I ran the marathon on that beautiful day in April. I will NEVER EVER forget the last 300 meters of that race and seeing all my friends and family at the finish line SCREAMING, “You did it, you really did it!” Damn right, I did it! I even did a burpee! My parents and sister all had a face full of tears and I have never felt more love in my heart and holy good god I am going to say it – I was proud of myself.

I still continue to go through low times not very often, but they creep up here and there. At the beginning of 2019, I decided to give up my eggs. It was very draining for me not only on a financial level but mentally too. With my fiance by my side we met with my fertility doctor and decided to discard what I had harvested years prior. I ultimately felt it wasn’t meant for me to be a mother in this way. I’m an amazing cat mom and I think I’m a pretty good “fake auntie” and I’m perfectly okay with that.  I still find it hard to be surrounded by friends and family with babies at times and deep down I think, – why did this have to happen to me? Then I hold my head up high and think this happened to me because I am strong enough to handle it.

I find my scars to be my gifts from my journey. My ab scars are the most profound of all my others (mostly tomboy childhood scars) not to mention my bellybutton will never be the same. These marks remind me that skilled surgeons unlocked me with their tools, took out what had to be taken, sewed me back up and saved my life. It is almost as if they left their life-giving signatures on my skin. I’ve always believed in the power of stories and that’s what scars do. They allow me to tell my story and spread awareness to others which is the best gift of all.

So many changes followed this whole process but here is just a few:

My body, my attitude, my strength, my motivation, my willpower.

Things I have learned:

I have learned that we are not guaranteed any amount of time on this earth and even though I was healthy – something was wrong on the inside so just because you feel “healthy” doesn’t mean you are.

I’ve learned that I have made plans to do things on my bucket list sooner rather than later because there may not be a later.

Maintaining a healthy diet and level of fitness is super important especially in your recovery time.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. JUST DON’T. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Your glass is half full if that’s how you believe it to be.

Travel is good and it puts you into an entirely new place with new people and new surroundings. Forget the negative stuff and be completely in the present.

Sunshine is medicine for the soul. Go outside!

Finally, don’t let fear get the best of you. Being afraid is a horrible feeling. It clouds your judgment and never helps a situation. If something bad is going to happen, it will happen whether you are afraid or not. BE BRAVE. You are never dealt anything that you can’t handle.

The KFit community is remarkable for so many reasons but one of the top is because we get to share our stories and live, love, learn, and support each other along the way. Thank you for letting me put mine out there. I can only hope you take a piece from it and use it in a powerful and positive way.

#ErikaStrong