Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month: A Survivor's Story

In the United States every hour a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer and every 2.5 hours a woman dies from this preventable disease. Cervical cancer was once the number-one cause of death from cancer in women. Thanks to the Pap test, which can screen for this cancer, the number of women in the United States with cervical cancer has decreased but there is still a lot of work to do.

I met Jennifer Larmon, a cervical cancer survivor, at the NYC Walk to Beat the Clock last year, but it wasn't until we did the Revlon walk against women's cancers representing Tamika and Friends, Inc. back in April, that I really got to know her and her family. She is a beautiful young women who stands strong and with determination. She shares her story in the hopes to make a difference and bring awareness about cervical cancer. Jen is a strong believer that we can eradicate cervical cancer and is determined to help to do just that.

I was amazed to see her family's enormous support, but the one that caught my attention and moved my heart was her little girl, and I must admit, I fell in love with Alyssa.

Ally is such a sweet little girl and immediately became my little friend, so now, I want to pay honor to her mommy. Here is Jen's story.

1. How old were you when you got diagnosed and what was your official diagnosis?

On August 11, 2009 I was diagnosed with Stage IBI Adenocarcinoma Cervical Cancer, I was 30 years old.

2. Can you take us back to when your doctor told you had cancer and what went through your mind?

I found out I had cancer from my caller ID, not my doctor. My phone rang and on the caller ID it said, “Cancer Center. I answered the phone and on the other end was a woman telling me I need to come in for a consultation. “A consultation, for what?” I responded. I knew at that point, but needed to hear it to be 100% sure.

She then asked me if my doctor had called me. My doctor never called. I was then told, “Oh Jennifer, you better call your doctor.” I called my mother who works an hour away from my house and asked her to please come home something is wrong and I don’t know what exactly.

I then called my doctor and told her what had happened and she asked me to come in to talk with her. At this point I knew something was wrong, so I asked her to please just tell me over the phone. She did not want to, but after begging her to tell me…she said, “you have cervical cancer. I started shaking uncontrollably. After a minute or so I asked her what had to be done. She told me I needed a radical hysterectomy.

Upon hearing this news I screamed at the top of my lungs and starting saying “why?” over and over again. Hearing you have cancer and that you will never be able to have another child in the same conversation is horrifying.

How can this all be happening? Just a couple of months ago I was pregnant and so happy. I was pregnant with our second child and miscarried during my third month on June 23, 2009. The only thing that was comforting me during the time after my miscarriage, was that I would be able to try again for a child. And now…that would never happen.

After all of the phone calls and meeting with my doctor and going back and forth to the doctor’s office to pick up copies of my records, my slides from my colposcopy and anything else I needed, I scheduled an appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. After various visits to Memorial Sloan Kettering to have another biopsy, I met with the doctor to discuss everything, and get everything in order, I was told that my cancer was Stage 1B1.

3. What kind of treatments did you get and did it worked?

August 31, 2009, I had a radical hysterectomy. I hated leaving my daughter that morning…in fear that I would never see her again. Walking down the hallway away from my husband and my mother on my way to the operating room was so scary to me.

Watching my husband put his arm around my mother to comfort her will never leave my mind. The operation lasted 6 hours. The last thing I remember is looking at the clock that was above the operating table. It was 11:15am, the next thing I remember was waking up in the recovery room at 8:15 pm.

The physical pain that I felt in the next few days was excruciating. After spending 4 days in the hospital I then returned home to recover. A week or so later I received the phone call from my Gynecologic Oncologist that I was waiting for.

My pathology results were good! I was cancer free…no radiation…no chemotherapy needed. Shortly after that I had my catheter taken out.

At one of my first follow up exams I was diagnosed with a right ovarian blood clot (detected through a CT Scan). I was treated for the blood clot with 6 months of Coumadin and 3 months of Warfarin injections (because my INR was not in the range they would have liked it to be in).

4. Do you feel yourself now?

During the 3 to 4 months after my surgery I was in pain almost every day. The past two years have been so hard for me. I often sit and wonder why did this happen. I thank God every day that I am alive and cancer free. But I will never forget all of the physical and emotional pain that this has caused me.

Just one month ago I had my 2 year follow up…Cancer free and blood clot free!

5. If you can give any advice to women what would you say?

If I could give advice to a woman going through this, I would tell them to take each moment at a time. Just because you hear those dreaded words, “you have cancer,” it does not mean your life is over.

Surround yourself with people that will be there for you to support you in a positive, loving way. Educate yourself on what is going on inside you. Make a list of questions and any fears you might have to ask your oncologist.

All the answers and information you need about your specific case will come from your doctor. Don’t do too much reading on the internet about it. Yes, educate yourself…but don’t make yourself crazy with information on other cervical cancer cases that have nothing to do with you, because each case is different.

Do not leave any question you have unanswered. Know all of your options and ask questions regarding fertility. I found comfort in knowing that I was not alone in this battle when I found Tamika and Friends. You are never alone....

6. Can you tell us about your family?

I have the best family anyone could ask for. I am an only child to a single mother, Jean, she is my heart. I could not survive without her.

I have been with my husband, Sean, for almost 14 years. We have been married for 6 years and have a beautiful little girl, Alyssa.

Sean is the strongest person I know. and Alyssa…is my life. I am so blessed to have her. My family is my life and I feel so lucky to have them by my side.

7. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

I see myself in 5 years leading a life just like I live today. Cancer free, healthy, happy and enjoying every moment. As much pain as this past 2 years has brought me, it has brought me so much happiness! I feel like this is a new life for me. There is nothing better than hearing, “you are cancer free.” You feel like you can do anything!

I am so happy that there is now a vaccine for cervical cancer. This vaccine will prevent others from developing cancer and preserve fertility. Without the love and support of my family I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of this. I fought this cancer for my baby girl, Alyssa. Mommy loves you and thanks you for being my inspiration to live. I thank God everyday that I have you. I still hope one day to have another child.

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