One of the reasons that I started this blog was to advocate for a healthy lifestyle, specifically for empowering women in the world of amateur (and I stress that word greatly) sports. However, living a healthy lifestyle goes beyond muscles and heart pumping cardio workouts and unfortunately, it took me most of my 20’s to learn this. Today I dabble in a topic that to me is still raw, very real, and something that I think needs to be highlighted. So men, you are forewarned, this post is one really for the ladies.
January is cervical cancer awareness month.
Each January is recognized as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Each year in the U.S. approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 lives are lost as a result. This doesn’t take into account the many thousands of women who have cervical abnormalities and abnormal Pap tests for reasons other than cancer, but who still undergo expensive and inconvenient follow-up exams and treatments.(Source)
I have always had abnormal paps, since the age of 18. So, when my pap came back abnormal once again shortly after my 26th birthday, I did not think anything of of it. Except that this time it was positive for HPV. My first thought was that I had a scary infection that would never go away. However, after much research and talking with my doctor, I found out this:
Cervical cancer is caused by specific types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common infection that almost everyone who is sexually active will have at some point. There are vaccines that block the types of HPV most often found with cervical diseases, and screening tests (such as Pap tests and HPV tests) that can identify women most at risk. (Source)
The reality is that all sexually active woman have HPV, however many times it remains dormant for many many years. I did not receive the vaccination for two reasons. One is that I had attended a women’s conference for teachers in Washington, DC on a field trip with my students back in 2007. At that time, scholars were skeptical of the vaccination because it had not been on the market long and no one really new the long term results or ramifications of the vaccination. Also, I was at the tail end of the age group eligible to receive the vaccination.
Regardless, I had HPV, which requires another test called a colposcopy. You can read about it here. Essentially it is a way for a doctor to examine your womanly parts with a microscope and to take a biopsy of the cells. I had to start seeing a new doctor for this test. I was diagnosed with HPV in December of 2009, by February of 2010 I had had my colposcopy. The new doctor called and said that she did not have enough tissue the first time. So, I went back in April and had it retested. Everything came back “normal”, I just had to keep up with my paps every 6 months.
The following September, I had broke my foot and had surgery to put hardware in it.
I decided it was a great time to catch up on all of my doctor’s appointment and the dreaded pap was on that list. I had the pap and two weeks later I received a call, a very cold call I might add, from my doctor. She told me “you have cancer and I can no longer treat you in my office.”
The next few months were incredibly raw and emotional for me. Exercise is a stress reliever for me. This was the most stressful time of my personal life and I had a broken foot. I could not exercise. I will be the first to admit that I had some poor coping mechanisms for this stressful time. I have always wanted a child and a family and now there is a significant chance that that may not happen for me naturally. Especially the more times that I have to have these procedures.
I found an oncologist in the Fort Collins are that specialized in this. My incredible sister came with me for my first evaluation with the doctor. He wanted to run more tests. Those tests came back showing not only abnormal cells, but also a couple of tumors and that I was at stage 1. I was scheduled to have laser ablation. Essentially a laser beam would burn off a significant layer of the uterus. That surgery was one year ago February 1st.
I went back in July and everything was “normal.” I say “normal” because I will always have abnormal cells, it is just a matter of if those cells grow enough into malignant cancerous. Right now they are still precancerous. I am due for a pap this month. I dread them. I feel invaded, and I always cry.
Many ask how I am affected by this today. The only issue I really have, besides the lingering residue of it all, is that my thyroid stopped working. I take thyroid medicine daily and it is a nuisance more than anything. Many athletes will tell you that this can sometimes hinder their performance and it is true. I can always tell when it is off. With thyroid issues, also comes some weight gain. I have about 5-10 pounds that won’t shed themselves. Other than that I happy to report that I am happy, healthy, and well on my way to my next marathon and mountain bike race.
Pap’s are easy to forget. Please don’t forget them. They are just as much a part of our health as running, biking, and eating right. If I had gone a few months with forgetting or putting off mine, I can’t imagine where I would be now.
If you have more questions about cervical cancer, you can visit this site. If you have questions for me personally, please feel free to comment on this post or email me. I am always willing to discuss my story. I wish I had had more people to discuss this with when I was going through it.