January 23rd-29th 2023 is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. Cervical cancer is a gynaecological cancer and can impact anyone with a cervix. To mark this week, community member, Julianna, is sharing her story with us.
Please remember, if you have any concerns about cervical cancer you should always speak to your doctor and ensure you attend your cervical cancer screening as and when you are invited.
In January 2021, I was diagnosed with stage 3c1 cervical cancer at the age of 27. I had the classic signs: bloating, bleeding, constant abnormal bleeding, pain, pain during intercourse – all of them. I had a lot of trouble getting a doctor’s appointment.
It was either COVID, or ‘not seeing new patients’, or a doctor just not listening to me and telling me to take birth control. I struggled getting anyone to listen to me. Finally, in desperation, I wrote a letter to a doctor in Atlanta begging to be seen, and he finally saw me and listened to me.
My pap smear (cervical cancer screening) came back abnormal (I did not have the HPV vaccine), and from there I had a colposcopy and was diagnosed. I then had surgeries, including a hysterectomy, and started radiation and chemo.
364 days after my last day of treatment, I woke up and something wasn’t right – I couldn’t walk up the stairs, couldn’t use one of my legs. I was still being monitored by my original care team and wasn’t due for a scan, but I called my oncologist, and they were on vacation, so I went to the ER. The ER doctor did a CT scan and ultrasound of my hurting leg, blood-work and all the diagnostics available. The CT scan showed recurrences in 13 spots. I immediately called my oncologist and kept getting the runaround. I didn’t feel like I was being taken seriously. I was a 28-year-old woman, and they would not listen to me. So, I took it upon myself to do research, looking for the best treatment for cervical cancer and found a centre that was listening.
After 12 rounds of ”hard” chemotherapy, I am in remission and will continue with two years of maintenance chemotherapy.
I found War On Cancer by looking up support. In my area, there aren’t a lot of support groups or really any AYA cancer survivors, but I knew there had to be a big online community. It is extremely important to find that community or support group. People try their hardest to sympathize but you just don’t get it unless you get it. Sharing, reading, and talking with other survivors in similar situations is very helpful and knowing we are not alone.
I try to advocate for getting a pap smear yearly. I waited three years and look what happened to me. I know going to the doctor and getting it done is uncomfortable, but it’s worth it versus the cancer. I also advocate hard for the HPV vaccine. I didn’t have it, and boy I wish I did. So many cervical cancers are due to HPV. I want people to know if they can get the vaccine, they should – and it’s not just for women! I want to stress the importance of not taking NO for an answer. Advocate for yourself! We know our bodies best; we know when something is wrong so keep pushing!