I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the cervix, stage 1B1, at 28 years old on February 22, 2022. A palindrome, one of the most special days that we have seen in decades.
I initially went to the doctor to make sure that everything was in order for my fertility, being told that I was so young and I had nothing to worry about. That I was healthy. I left the doctor with my fertility altered and a diagnosis that had never crossed my mind.
Fast forward and I’ve learned that one of the hardest things about being diagnosed with cancer is surviving it.
It is okay to look normal, but feel anything but
Cancer changes everything. When you are diagnosed young, there are added questions and an expectation to just get through it.
I did not have chemo or radiation but I still have a pounding in my body most of the time, fearing that everything could come crashing down again.
I underwent a radical trachelectomy where my cervix, pelvic tissue, and lymph nodes were removed and a transabdominal cerclage was inserted to keep my uterus in place. My treatment plan is to undergo small maintenance procedures every four months for two years to keep the margins clear.
Just because my tumor was removed, there is no evidence of disease, and the ten-inch scar on my stomach is starting to fade does not mean that the fight is done. It just means that I am now fighting with a lot less support and guidance than when I was initially diagnosed because it can seem like I’ve already “fought and won.”
Find the tools to give you comfort in the unknown
Cancer did not only attack and change my body, but it attacked and altered my mind as well.
Every time my period is one day late or I bleed just a little too long or my shoulder hurts or I have a bruise that looks a little off, I panic and spiral. I spiral because this disease has changed me. I become anxious over every little nothing because my little nothing became something and I hate that. I hate going to the doctor every month, but I hate not going in case we miss something. I wish I could have a PET scan every day as I walk out the door to be assured that I am okay and safe.
As I walk this tightrope of not jumping to conclusions, I’ve also come to realize that to feel okay, I need to speak to my doctors and gather all of the information. For me, that means making a list of everything that I need to know so I could feel in control and be prepared for whatever comes next.
Create connections to help navigate grief
A diagnosis in your 20s is complicated because you no longer completely resonate with your group of people who once understood your every move. The friend who used to call you to tell you about a drunken night out doesn’t call because they don’t want to rub it in. The co-worker who usually would ask you to fix a problem doesn’t because you’ve been out at appointments all week and are already behind in work.
This loss made me feel as if I were stuck in this limbo of trying to understand all that I had been through while also trying to figure out what my future would look like.
Connecting with others and opening myself up to support allowed me to start the process of grieving for what I have been through, what I will always go through, and for who I once was and will never be again.
In that process, I connected with a Breastie who helped me through the funk I was in by offering a sense of understanding and validation for all that I was feeling and going through. She guided me onto a track of advocacy and independence that I did not know was possible. I also started journaling and getting into a routine of working out, which helped me feel in control of my body.
The feeling of the unknown and the loss of my previous normal faded a little bit and I started being able to adjust to life after diagnosis.
Hold on and be selfish
Cancer is confusing, debilitating, and life-changing. It teaches you perspective and strength and redefines your life in a way that you never imagined. Strength isn’t always getting out of bed with a positive uppity attitude. Strength is getting out of bed knowing your day is going to suck and doing it anyway because there is that nudge of hope knowing that a better day could be around the corner if you just get up and keep going.
So hold on, be selfish, and give yourself some grace.
Hold on to the thought of a good hour or a deep breath. Hold on to the things that give you peace even just for a second. And be selfish. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel comfortable and safe.
Give yourself grace and recognize the gravity of all that you’ve been through and all of the changes that come with this diagnosis. And although I hate the fact that I am now a part of the worst club imaginable, I am excited to be surrounded by the best members.