My journey began on August 11, 2010 as I was driving to an early morning appointment. My cell phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered the phone I was greeted by a woman who identified herself as being from my gynecologist’s office. She told me that she wanted to confirm my appointment with Dr. Oakley. I immediately responded that there must be some mistake as I knew no Dr. Oakley and I had no appointment. She clarified that I had been referred to his office by my gynecologist. When I asked why, she told me that she was unable to provide that information. At this point I could feel my frustration growing as I didn’t understand what was happening and the person on the other side of the phone was not helping to clarify. In a very sarcastic tone I asked, “Can you at least tell me where his office is?” She immediately, almost cheerfully complied, and stated “of course, his office is in the cancer center.” I’m not entirely sure if I know what happened next, but I knew I had to stop driving!
I remember gasping for air, I couldn’t breathe. I knew I needed to talk to someone, anyone. All of my family members were either at work or in meetings. Fortunately a very good friend was available to take my call. I don’t remember any of the call except for the words from the other side of the line stating over and over, “Just breath, it will be ok.”
Later that afternoon I was able to meet with my gynecologist who did confirm that I had cervical cancer and from her limited information could not tell me how bad. She told me that only after further testing and evaluation by an oncologist could anyone know the extent of the disease.
At that moment I didn’t know how lucky I was, lucky to have found the cancer as early as I did. In the time since that date I have meet so many women who at that initial meting have been told they have incurable cervical cancer with only weeks or months to live. Cervical cancer is silent killer as the symptoms (if any) go unnoticed until it is too late. While cervical cancer is generally a slow killing disease, it can only be found through regular examination and testing. The current recommendation for women is to begin annual Pap smear screenings within 3 three years of becoming sexually active or 21 whichever comes first. Women over the age of 30 should not only have the annual exam, but should also be tested for the Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV). HPV is known to be present with nearly all cervical cancers.
For future generations there is now a vaccine that is believed to prevent HPV, thus preventing cervical cancer. By having everyone between the ages of 9 and 26 vaccinated we can prevent another woman from ever having to take the steps I have been forced to take.
Now as I continue on my journey, I feel that I have no other option but to work to educate others on what steps they can take to protect their health. I don’t know where this journey will take me, but I know that I will cherish every step.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide. In the United States, 12,200 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2010, and 4,210 women will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Visit Pearl of Wisdom to learn what you can do to prevent this disease.