A cervical cancer story: my path to motherhood

My path to motherhood is also a cervical cancer story. Before I was diagnosed, I was a responsible, professional woman. I wasn't promiscuous, and I hadn't had sex at a young age. I took care of myself, and my biggest health problem to that point had been a minor skin cancer.

I went to my gynecologist for a routine annual exam. She called me two weeks later to tell me to come back in for a colposcopy because my Pap smear was abnormal, and it showed HPV and mild dysplasia.

I had never heard of HPV. Even though I am a pharmacist, my specialty was not women's health. It turns out that that was the first year that testing for HPV became routine on Pap smears because they had discovered that it was the cause of nearly all cervical cancer. When I was told that, I was pretty much speechless.

How and when did I get HPV?

And how did it turn into cancer?

The results of the colposcopy showed worse dysplasia under the surface, so my doctor recommended a LEEP. During a LEEP, the surgeon uses an electrified metal loop to carve off tissue. It sounds painful, but fortunately, they give anesthesia, and I just woke up afterward feeling fine and hoping that this was the end.

But a week later, my doctor's office called to ask me to come in later that same day. I had a feeling that it wouldn't be good news.

So I wasn’t surprised to hear that the results of the LEEP showed micro-invasive cervical cancer.

I wasn't surprised, but I was still devastated.

She said that the good news was that she was positive that I would not die, but I may need a hysterectomy.

The fear of a life without having children

What she didn’t know was that, at that time in my life, I would rather die than never have children. I was only 35 years old, and I hadn't had my children yet. I couldn’t imagine not being a mother. It was always something I knew I wanted. Cancer didn't scare me--living a life without having children did. 

For some women, a LEEP is all they need because it either gets all of the cancer (if it's still local and small enough) or it shows that there aren’t any tumors, just dysplasia. In my unfortunate case, the 5 mm by 7 mm tumor was right on the edge of the tissue cut off by the LEEP, so she couldn’t say that they got it all. There might still be some cancer left in there. I needed a second procedure to make sure it was all gone. And that was not something she did, so she was going to send me to the oncologist.

Oncologist. I heard the word, and my heart almost stopped. 

She said she hoped that the second procedure, a cone biopsy, would get any residual tumor or show that it was all gone. However, if not, they may have to go ahead and remove my uterus, too. 

She had trained with one of the top oncologists in the country who, it just so happened, practiced in my area, and she offered to call him herself and get me an appointment. I nodded. I heard what she was saying, but I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. I cried the entire time I was in her office. I couldn't believe this was happening to me.

On the way out, she quickly wrote me prescriptions for sleeping pills and anxiety medication. The waiting room was full of women, most of them obviously pregnant. That coincidence was really rough.

I went home and cried all night and the next day. I was so tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I had to call my parents and tell them the news, but I couldn’t hold it together.  How do you tell your parents you have cancer?My Dad cried, too. It’s pretty hard to listen to your parents cry for you.

I saw the oncologist two weeks later. By that time, I was calmer and didn’t break down when he told me what he had to do next. A cone biopsy was the next step, and for most women, that’s all they need. There was a 1/200 chance that the cancer would recur. He scheduled me for a cone biopsy in a few weeks. More waiting. 

Later, after the cone biopsy, I found out that there was no remaining cancer--as it turns out, the LEEP did get it all. All I had to do was visit the oncologist every four months for followup Pap tests and colposcopies.    

I did some research on the internet, and I found the story of a woman who had had a trachelectomy and still had a baby. I figured that I had a good chance if she did. I also read about a woman younger than me who died because they caught her cancer too late. That wasn't the only cervical cancer story I found like that.

Even though the repeat Pap tests still showed HPV 4 months and even 8 months later, I started sleeping better, and I started thinking about a future that included having children. I even talked with my gynecologist about it, and she gave me prenatal vitamins.

I read a lot of books for support, too. I still was upset about why this had happened to me, and it was hard to talk to other people about it because they felt like I ought to be over it.

A year later

Unfortunately, a year later, on a followup colposcopy and biopsy, the oncologist got a tiny tumor. I was one of those 1/200 women who have a recurrence of cancer. My cervical cancer story had not ended yet. Once again, I had to have another cone biopsy, but this time, my oncologist said that this is the last one I could have--after that, I would have to have a hysterectomy. I was simply running out of cervix to remove.

The nurse in pre-op was wonderful. She took my hand and massaged it and told me she had had a cone biopsy years ago. I cried then, too.

That cone biopsy, like the first, was clear, so I felt like it was a waste of my precious cervical tissue, but they had to be sure. 

And, finally, my Pap smears showed no HPV. Now, it’s in my body, like any virus, but it’s under control by my immune system. I do what I can to make sure it stays that way. 

Best of all, in December 2008, five and a half years after I was first diagnosed, I had a healthy, full-term baby boy. He makes it all worthwhile. I hope that's the end of my cervical cancer story.

And another hope is that, after reading my cervical cancer story, if you're worried about what will happen if you get pregnant after having a LEEP or a cone biopsy, you will be reassured. I can't guarantee that you won't have any trouble, but I wish that I had read something more positive back then. 

If you also have a positive experience to share, please add your cervical cancer story here!

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