Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dance with Cervical Cancer

This is the original story written almost 2 years ago. I pulled this part off my website and needed a place to store it for others to read if they need encouragement in getting through treatment.

Kristena, I have some bad news for you.

Those words are all I can recall that day in late March, 2006. Everything else became a blur as I tried to absorb the words spoken to me.

I had not had a pap smear in 9 years. Everything had been fine previous, why would I need to worry now? I mean, I am an herbalist and take good care of my body. Surely this gives me immunity against disease, right?

It is interesting how things come to pass. I was conversing with some women at our health food store business meeting, and found out that a retired local nurse midwife was doing pap smears and exams as a service for the local practicing midwives.

The thought occured to me that this might be a good time to introduce my daughter to the world of pap smears, breast exams and such. So I set an appointment.

On the day we had our appointment I said a prayer that if there was any problems at all for my daughter or myself, that it be revealed.

I went first and had a pleasant time with the practitioner. She is a beautiful woman, in her 60's and I could relate to her well. She made me feel comfortable and secure in our appointment.
During the pelvic exam, she stated my cervix looked as though it had been through the war but not lost the battle.
I laughed, thinking this was a result of Olivia's unassisted homebirth with her weight at a whopping 10 pounds 11 oz.
However, as she went to collect the cells with her qtip I began to bleed.
Inside I was panicky, but tried to remain calm.
I was reassured that this could mean I had an infection or something, but not neccessarily anything serious.

So I put on my herbalist cap again, trusting that I am a healthy woman and did not really worry too much again.
My daughter was comfortable for her first exam and we both went on our way discussing the experience together.

However peace was soon gone a week after when the results were in and I received the phone call.
The pap smear showed I had abnormal cells and I was urged to go for a colposcopy to check things out.

I asked for a good gynecologist and took the referral name and set an appointment for the colposcopy.
I wish I cold say I was brave and strong and went to my scheduled appointment, but I put it off another several weeks to try to heal myself. I was in partial denial, terrified inside with a pain so great that I was beside myself. I, the herbalist mother of 7 children, could have cervical cancer.
I used every known herb I could to combat this cellular abnormality hoping it was just dysplasia that I could reverse.
Day after day I faithfully performed my rituals in hopes for this to disappear and go away. Tampon soaked infusions, enemas, vegetarian meals, fasting, praying, increased excercise, sunbathing daily, and the like.
Then one day I realized I needed to just get in there and do it. If my rituals have healed me then I will be ok, I said. If not, I must know in order to be proactive about my life.

I arrived at the womans center early in the morning and I was so scared my teeth chattered within me. Scared of exposing this precious cervix with whom 7 babies had passed through. Afraid of the needle being injected so that I would not feel the biopsy. Ashamed that I had not had a pap smear in almost a decade.
I expressed my fears and everyone was so kind and easy going with me.
As the gynecologist examined me, she used doctor terminolgy that was undiscernable to me adn asked if her partner could also view my cervix. I agreed.
They both then examined, spoke doctor talk to each other and then the gynecologist told me that she woudl not perform the colposcopy, but felt she needed to refer me to the doctor across the street, whom she had highest regard for and he had treated her own mother previous.
She would not state she saw cancer, but only said she saw that I would need surgery and he was the surgeon who should see me.
So they scheduled an appointment for the next day. And once they handed me his information, I saw he was an oncologist gynecologist.
Oh No ...this does not sound good I thought.
I asked the nurses, does this mean I have cancer?
They told me NO, this does not mean you have cancer, we just feel he needs to see you.

The next day I went to see this oncologist gynecologist. He was a really nice man and he could see the fear of the unknown all over my face. And when I discovered he did not like to give local injection for biopsy that made it worse!
My husband was in the room with me and I held his hand and tried to get myself together and be strong.
The biopsy was not painful really.
The doctor then said we needed the pathology for a certain diagnosis, but from what he could see he was sure I had cervical cancer.

And it was at that moment, I became strong. Running away from what I feared was now being confronted.
I felt more light and back to earth that the weeks previous. My husband and I laughed and enjoyed each other.
When the results were returned, the nurse called to tell me it was indeed cancer.
I was staged at 1b1

Within a week from that phone call I had a cat scan, chest xray an appointment once again with the doctor, blood work, an ekg and a radical hysterectomy. I was busy!

I was given the option of radiation or surgery. I chose surgery in hopes to spare my ovaries and continue making hormones.

Surgery went well and 5 days later, on my 40th birthday, I was able to come home.

Brenda, my stepmom, had flown in for the week to care for the family while I recovered. She was a huge help and supportive. She is such a brave soul and I needed her bravery to fare through my fears of the cancer being gone.

A few days after discharge from the hospital, it was time to remover the catheter and staples.
To my horror, I could not feel my bladder or any sensation of needed to use the restroom. I did everything possible to get myself revived to no avail. I had to be recatheterized for another week.
The bladder problem made me cry-I was concerned and for another week+ I had a catheter again . The second time my catheter was removed I still had some problems, but fortunately we worked through them and I am pretty much normal.

In the middle of all this bladder trouble, the pathology report came back with some sad news. The cancer was successfully removed, however it was larger than thought and also had invaded some lymph vascular space. Radiation was recommended.

An appointment was made for a consultation with the radiologist oncologist. My husband and I cried and cried. My dear husband knew how important it was for me to spare my ovaries and now there was no hope left. Radiation would knock them out of functioning mode and I would be going into menopause. He knew it hurt me and he cried with me.
I did much research the next 2 weeks trying to determine if I wanted to go forward with this. It seemed the messages I received was to go ahead and tackle it now in hopes that it would be forever gone.
Cancer treatment always has its risks. It is not easy to make decisions, however I felt at peace with moving forward.

Funny though, as a woman that has avoided radiation most of her adult life, even from microwaves, I was now forced to submit to a radiation machine. I was honestly terrified and after 3 days of treatment I went a little bit crazy and had to call my poor radiation doctor on Fathers day for antidepressants and sleep help. I felt I could not go back for more treatments-I was so scared.
But from that point forward I was ok. The nursing staff was awesome, my doctor was awesome and the drugs helped until I broke out in a rash all over my body. I blame radiation but everyone thinks I am crazy. I went off the antidepressants for a few days and onto a new type.
I stayed on the meds for about 2 weeks and went off. I was not scared of radiation anymore and felt ok. Diarrhea was the worse symptom. I only had one major embarrasing blow out in a public restroom. My kids were embarrassed too. I wont share that

5 weeks of M-F radiation. No pain. Made me a wee bit tired and a wee bit sore in my bones and of course daily diarrhea. Other than that fairly uneventful until the last 3 treatments in the 6th week. They were internal treatments to treat the inside vagina and cuff using a type of radioactive tampon of sorts.
The treatment itself did not hurt, but inserting the applicator was uncomfortable and after the three treatments were done, my sacred area looked completely different. Swollen, purply black. Urinating hurt and my bowels hurt. Thank goodness it went back to normal after a few weeks. I had some sunburned type skin and lost my pubic hair. I was quite nervous and was able to have ativan for each treatment to take the edge off.

I now see my gynecologist oncologist every 3 months for a check up. It gets incredibly tense each time I know an appointment is coming. I want to cry and run away. But in my heart I truly feel I will be ok.

I have chosen at this time not to take hormones. Trying to get through this naturally is not the easiest, but so far I feel good about my decision.
My sex life has completely changed. No natural moisture so I created a product for that.
The lack of hormones sometimes make me real edgy so I take motherwort for that.

I am still eating low carb. Excersize when I feel up to it. This is the time of my life I must strengthen my body, bones and heart to stay well. I use nourishing herbal infusions for daily tonic of vitamins and minerals. On days I feel slow or weak I take kelp to help regulate thyroid and sometimes a b vitamin or multi. Most of the time I just need my infusions.

I must say looking at life through the cancer experience has been extremely life changing. Living is far more sacred than I ever held it. My family means more to me than I ever thought was possible. My spiritual life has allowed me to question things without guilt and to seek out what I truly beleive.
I have learned to value people far more than before and have been a bit less reclusive.

When I lost my ability to conceive through cancer surgery, my daughter, Robyn conceived (surprise to us all). I not only went into menopause years in 2006 but early 2007, my grandaughter Ariella was born. With the help of many beautiful and supportive women, I was able to fly out for the birth. It was a beautiful experience and one I will never forget. So immediately I was thrust into a new season of life. And one I hope to successfully master and grow in. I plan to be here a long long time and want to make every bit of my presence a positive force in this world.

Thank you for taking time to read this. If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer I want to encourage you to hold on tightly to hope. You need to get through your treatment and desire to be cancer free. The cancer journey is difficult and can be fearful. Your faith and desire for life, and support from loved ones is essential. Let people cook for you or clean for you. Go out for an ice cream sundae on occassion without guilt. Listen to your favorite music and dance. I still worked out, although very cautiously during radiation. Any sense of normal felt good to me.

If you choose alternative medicine, please be sure you have the support team of people with experience in oncology. Donnie Yance would be a good start as he specializes in diseases such as cancer. I did not have that choice with my financial limitation, and in the wake of a major illness, the emotions were far too intense sometimes to do much.
My gyn oncologist and radiation oncologists were my homeboys and I learned so much through them.
A good support groups like Crazy Sexy Life may be helpful, although you will find some radical health pursuits there that you may not want to do for yourself. That is ok.
Love yourself. Dont beat yourself up because you ate ice cream every Saturday and smoked too much pot as a teen. Listen, absorbing the past will only make you grieve. Look toward a healthy and whole future and do the best you can to make it come to pass.

I wish you well,

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