I SEE MY CANCER AS A BLESSING

By Cheryl

I left work on a hot, sunny Thursday in July, planning to return on Monday. Ca153 cancer-free. At the time, I was a riding instructor in my busy season, and my job had never improved.

I had never been so happy in my 40-year career. My riding program was thriving.

I had a full roster and a waiting list, and I could get extra hours working rodeos or holding a day camp. And I loved my boss, my co-workers, and my customers. I loved my job. My dad once told me that if your passion is your job, you never work a day of your life. That was how I felt; I was living it.

I finished my last lesson and left to have a cyst lanced the next day. I didn’t teach another lesson until December.

My mother was the one who heard the HPV Cancer Test news from the doctor first. Sitting in disbelief and anger, she tried to absorb the news of Cancer in her child. We had lost my father to this terrible disease, and it was just too much, too soon. My husband sat beside her, trying to make sense of it all, and he, too, felt betrayal and anger. They had many questions, but the doctor retreated behind a locked door, and the questions would remain unanswered.

It was Cancer.

It was Cancer. Specifically, It was vulvar Cancer. A rare cancer that no one in their 50s should get. I had HPV, and they were watching me closely. I had Pap tests every six months and cervical biopsies to test for the CA153 marker. The funny thing is, the Cancer never went onto the cervix, but it was there all the same.

It sounded dirty.

I called my father’s cancer doctor. He treated completely different cancers, but I knew I would feel safe with his advice. He looked at my CT scan and met with me.

It was very serious. He began to describe what might be done to combat this Ca153 Cancer. Then he described that there would probably be radiation and maybe chemotherapy. He wondered if there was lymph involvement. He wondered if there would be radiation implants and described the many surgeries that I might have to go through. I broke down, and my mother broke down. A friend in the room later admitted having the feeling of someone describing “gutting a fish.”

We all stood in the waiting room and prayed. We prayed for a miracle, a total healing. The Test report came back, and the HPV Cancer was contained. I would be going to Barnes-Jewish Hospital I, where they treat this type of Cancer all the time.

How I prepared myself

I prepared for the trip in odd ways. A friend took me to their Wednesday night prayer meeting. I was anointed with oil. Most of the congregation came up and laid their hands upon me and prayed for me. I kept hearing someone to the back and to the right of me thanking God for pulling the Ca153 cancer test off me even as we were praying.

Our dog groomer got me a special daily devotional book for patients; it became my lifeline. My mother-in-law brought me a blanket made for me by a lady who did not even know me!

My job had prevented me from hiding my illness. I had riders, and explanations had to be made. The news was out. There was an outpouring of prayer- daily cards saying everyone was praying. Friends called and offered to help with the pets. They offered to stay with me and drive me to appointments.

Strangers sent books and gift cards for gas and medical supplies. I felt ashamed that when these things presented themselves to me before that, I had said that I would pray and not step up better. I felt awed that children were praying for me daily! Also, I felt blessed!

The cancer centre

I remember the first time I set foot in the cancer centre. If it has to do with Cancer, they have it. If it is cutting edge, it is there. Some windows run in a curve and extend upward about two stories high. I found myself sitting by these windows between treatments many times. Sometimes, the person who designed the centre was a Child of God. I sat looking out those tall windows and past the high buildings; the buildings were so tall that my cell phone would hardly work. I had no service, but God had me on His call plan. He and I often connected in that place where a mere human had thought I would want to see the sky and that I would need sunshine to stream on my face.

One day…

There is a rail that opens to the radiology department below. I later learned that it is open so that the sound of the treatment bell ringing can be heard, the bell that the patient rings at the end of their treatment. The bell became my focus, walking in and walking out every day. Each day, the door past the bell and back out the door. Longing for the moment that I would ring it. I did ring the bell! Then I remember ringing in and praising God while I did it! I remember friends and family coming to watch me ring it! I was Ca153 cancer-free!

Since then, I have been in complete remission for two years, and I am grateful for an HPV Swab Test that opened my eyes and my heart to a new day. I look at my Cancer as a blessing. I live each day to the fullest. Now, I am broken from the treatments, but my body is repairing, and I am grateful.

I know two things: God will hold you tight and never leave you. He was right there at each chemo and radiation treatment. And two, you are only as strong as your friends and family holding you up!

SHARING MY STORY TO ENCOURAGE OTHERS

By Laura 

In October 1992, at age 36, CA153 Tested me and diagnosed me with cervical Cancer. They discovered this during my routine annual gynaecological exam, and it was a shock as I’d had no symptoms. I was immediately referred to an oncologist. Due to my size (I was about 100 pounds overweight), it was decided that I should have radiation therapy instead of a hysterectomy and or chemotherapy.

Several days later, after my HPV DNA Test, I began a six-week course of radiation therapy. Every weekday, I was laid on a huge machine which rotated around me and shot 6″x6″ square doses of radiation through my lower body. This was followed by a hospital stay, where a steel apparatus with cobalt radiation was inserted inside me. It was a crazy-looking widget, which I nicknamed.

“Satellite Sputnik” when I saw the x-rays. It also remained there for three and a half days.

Naturally, I could not have visitors with all that radiation flying around. Nurses could only stay in my room for a couple of minutes, and then they were wrapped in heavy lead protective vests. I wondered how I could survive with that much intense radiation.

But thankfully, I did survive.

20 years on

It has been over 20 years now, and though I am ALIVE, it did not come without damaging health consequences. The first repercussion was it seriously shortened my vagina despite post-surgery treatments. A few years later, scar tissue was discovered in my bladder, and on several occasions, it required surgery to remove it.

By 2009-unbeknownst to me-my bladder was in such bad shape that I wasn’t able to eliminate all urine when I went to the bathroom (frequently!), and it began backing up into my ureters (the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder). Over the years, my kidneys were gradually poisoned, and I slowly became very ill and was eventually diagnosed with radiation cystitis of the bladder. My urologist, therefore, said simply that my bladder was “kaput.” It is now the size of a walnut and hard-like weathered leather, but it is also not soft and flexible like it should be. I was put on an indwelling Foley catheter 24/7, which was very uncomfortable and further damaged the inside of my bladder.

A final note

Last year, I was diagnosed with chronic and acute kidney disease, stage 4. Stents were inserted into my ureters to keep them open and let urine flow unimpeded. This will slow the steady march to needing dialysis and, eventually, a kidney transplant.

All these problems- and also a few lesser ones-are the direct result of my having had radiation treatment for cervical Cancer. I know that medical science has greatly evolved and that the doses of radiation they give today are much safer. But I am sharing my story to encourage others to get an HPV lab test regularly and avail themselves of the HPV vaccination that might prevent this from happening to them.

A final note: I was never given an HPV Urine Test during my treatment days, and by the time I finally knew enough to request one, it was a decade later. By that time, I tested negative for the virus.