Coping with cervical cancer

Coping with the diagnosis of cervical cancer and the uncertainty was hard, and at times very lonely. After my first cone biopsy, I lived with fear that the cancer would come back, and unfortunately, it did.

What I learned is that being sick, especially having cancer, scares people away. They don't know what to say, and they often say the wrong thing when they do.

I can't tell you how many times I heard this: "Well, at least you won't die." Or this: "You can always adopt. Or use a surrogate."

Those types of comments are not helpful! They made me feel even more guilty and selfish about being sad.

So the alternative was not to talk about it with people, which meant sometimes it overwhelmed me, and I would just start crying. That was awkward!

Coping strategies are very important. Protecting yourself from difficult situations is also important. For example, I didn't go to baby showers for a while because it was too hard. If people got mad that I didn't go, then they were being selfish. How can you expect someone coping with cancer that may prevent her from having children to come celebrate your children?

It's weird to have a cancer that all the doctors agreed was caught early enough that I wouldn't die, but that could still be life-altering anyway. I didn't have to have chemotherapy and be afraid of dying. I just had to think about redefining my entire life.

And so I felt guilty at times for being upset about having cervical cancer. A part of me felt like a whiner--I wasn't going to die so I should be happy, right?

I have learned that grief is a complex thing. I went to a counselor who expressed great surprise at how hopeful I was in spite of my situation. That's when I realized that, deep down inside, I was a real optimist. I truly believed that somehow things would be okay.

That's doesn't mean I wasn't still sad at times. But I found strength inside of me that I didn't know was there.

I also made peace with some people because I realized that we all have things we're dealing with.

And I forgave myself for having cancer. I think that's the hardest part of having a cancer that is caused by a virus you get from sexual activity...blaming yourself. There's the voice in my head: If only I had done things differently, then maybe this wouldn't have happened to me!

That's why I tell all the young women I know now to wait to have sex. I tell them my story. I tell them what I lost and what I almost lost.

I think it's important to be gentle with yourself and surround yourself with people who will understand when you need to cry or when you need to get angry. See a counselor or your pastor if that might help you. Take time to for your grief and healing.

Like any traumatizing life experience, cervical cancer takes something away from you, but it can also give something back if you let it. It takes away your basic trust in your body and your health, at least for a while, but it can help you find strength you might not know you have. And maybe also you'll find faith in something bigger than yourself, too.