Heather C.

Cervical Cancer - Stage I

Heather-C
quotation

The best part is that they do a lot of the tough work—like setting up appointments and making sure the entire care team is communicating. I have enough to worry about, and I appreciated not having to worry about the other stuff. I could focus on fighting my cancer.

I grew up in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, in a very rural community. After high school, I graduated and went to college at Southwest Baptist University. I met my husband, Dan, and we eventually got married and had two children. We live in Missouri, just outside of Springfield. My husband is a restaurant manager, and I am a financial planner. Our life was routine, and we kept busy being involved with our children’s activities.

At the end of 2012, my family and I noticed that my demeanor was changing. I was cranky and generally unhappy. I was very short-tempered with everyone. I would go workout and notice something just wasn’t quite right, and I was in pain, physically. In March 2013, I went in to see my OB/GYN. After the exam, she told me I had stage I cervical cancer. I came out of the appointment feeling relief that I knew what was wrong. My husband was shocked.

I saw an oncologist and scheduled surgery. I had a partial hysterectomy to remove the cancer. When we went back, I was told there were no more signs of cancer. I went back for check-ups, however, because I wasn’t healing as I should have been. I had severe stomach pains. In September 2013, the doctor noted that I should have been farther along in my healing process. So, another biopsy was performed, and I was told my cancer had returned. I lost my breath and turned ghostly white. Now I was panicking. Before I had a plan, and I thought it had worked. I felt like I was caught in a current and unable to swim my way out. I didn’t know what to do.

Determining next steps

I called my dad, and he suggested I check out Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). We had both seen the commercials, and he really wanted me to find care tailored to me. Together, we called CTCA®, and I gave my information. Later that same day, a CTCA representative called and said everything was set for my visit.

I went to the CTCA hospital in Tulsa for my initial evaluation. My dad, mom and I drove there, and it took us a little over three hours. From the moment I walked in, it felt so different. When we entered the hospital, it felt more like we were walking into a resort. Everyone greeted me and was so friendly. The atmosphere of hope and positivity was so refreshing.

I met with my entire care team, including a medical oncologist. I completed an array of tests and scans to determine the extent of my cancer. Working together, we came up with a treatment plan. I felt better knowing I had a plan and that my doctors had a lot of confidence in it.

There was one issue that I was working through. I would have to stay at the hospital for several weeks. My daughter was in middle school, and she was involved with a lot of activities. I worried about leaving her, and I wanted to make sure someone was always there to care for her.

The other option was to stay and treat locally. If I did, I was going to have to do a lot of driving, coordinating and scheduling on my own. It took a lot of organizing, since the doctors all worked individually and didn’t communicate with one another. It seemed like a lot of work to do when I wasn’t going to be feeling well. So, I asked my husband to come to Tulsa with me so he could see what CTCA was all about.

I can still remember when we met with the radiologist at CTCA. He was showing us the scans and explaining that I might lose my bladder. My cancer was fast spreading and not typical. He urged us to act quickly, saying speed to care was so important in my case, no matter where I decided to treat. I was only 40 years old, and I just found out that I had a one in four chance of losing my bladder. I had been praying for weeks about the decision and grappling with the choice of where to treat. I needed my husband to support me with the decision.

Making the best decision for me

We walked out of the meeting, and my husband put his arms around me. He said, “You have to go here.” That’s exactly what I needed to hear to make the decision to treat at CTCA.

I started treatment in October 2013. I started with chemotherapy, and I would do it on Monday nights. Soon, I underwent radiation treatments to my pelvic area. I did 40 treatments over eight weeks. I stayed at the guest quarters onsite at the Tulsa hospital. I would stay Monday through Friday and then go home on the weekends. CTCA worked around my schedule. I didn’t start chemotherapy until Monday night so my husband could take me and be there. Then I would be done by noon Friday to start my trip home for the weekend.

I missed my family when I was away at the hospital, but everyone there made it a good experience. I never felt alone. The doctors, nurses and patients all hugged me and stopped me for conversation. They always remembered me, and I could tell they truly cared. They would ask me about my family and make other personal connections. It’s like coming home when I go to the hospital because the atmosphere is so comfortable and warm.

The best part is that they do a lot of the tough work—like setting up appointments and making sure the entire care team is communicating. I have enough to worry about, and I appreciated not having to worry about the other stuff. I could focus on fighting my cancer.

I did brachytherapy. I needed precision-focused radiation designed to destroy the tumor without tearing my bladder. Then I did hyperthermia, a non-invasive method of increasing temperature to stimulate tumor cells and make them more sensitive to radiation. This helps to reduce damage to healthy tissue. I would come out of that feeling like I just ran a marathon because my body temperature was raised so high. I also had an oophorectomy to remove tissue affected by the cancer.

I did feel sick at times, so much so that CTCA made accommodations for my mom to stay with me. When I complained of side effects, the supportive care providers were there for me. At times, I cried, but I always felt loved and supported by the nurses and doctors. They would offer me breaks in treatment or suggest other options. I knew I wanted to stay the course. I had a goal to be done with cancer treatment by Christmas. CTCA helped me reach that milestone.

So much to be thankful for

I felt so much joy and positivity when I left CTCA to go home for Christmas. I had done it: I fought against my cancer. I came back in January 2014, and the tests and scans showed no signs of cancer. I went back every three months and then every six. For the past two years, I have only returned for an annual check-up. At these appointments, my oncologist looks for changes and provides recommendations for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I experienced lymphedema after I completed treatment. It caused swelling from the excess buildup of fluid under the skin. My oncologist sent me to the CTCA hospital near Chicago. The hospital has a doctor focused on managing the pain associated with the condition. It was good to know that my team’s focus was truly on what is best for me. I had the same experience at both hospitals—treatment personalized to me.

My children, Justin and Caitlin, motivated me throughout this journey. They never let me give up. I had so much support from my husband, friends and family. I tell others who are diagnosed with cancer to always get a second opinion and know your options. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because you can’t go through this alone.

My cancer has not returned, and I was able to save my bladder. In 2019, I attended Celebrate Life® with my sister, Ginger. She would come stay with me at the hospital on Tuesday nights. She has seen firsthand how well CTCA cared for me. The event was a great way for me to recognize how far I have come in five years.

I thank the Lord for bringing me this far. Every day, he has given me a milestone, and I express daily gratitude. I reflect on my present blessings because I truly am thankful for all I have.

Diagnosed:
March 2013
Treatment at:
Care team