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I became a survivor in 2000 when I became diagnosed with cervical cancer.
It’s a very slow moving cancer. On a regular checkup in 1999, there was a misfire with all parties involved, where we all thought, “It’s nothing. It’s just normal monthly things. You’re probably fine.” I should’ve questioned it a little bit more. I came back one year later with more symptoms. They said, “We can see something here.” If you can see cancer, it’s probably a little bit progressed. So they referred me on and that started the process. It happened very fast after that. I had the kind of cancer where as soon as your organ is removed, you’re done. There’s no treatment beyond that. So it was pretty different than a lot of other people’s. I had two minor surgeries and then a radical hysterectomy, which at 31 is pretty strange to deal with.
It is a really strange thing to never have had the chance to have children. To reckon with that as not being a choice anymore is really what the surgery meant for me. I don’t know that I have come to grips with it. I’m anticipating it getting more difficult. I see the people around me going through it more than I do almost. I’m single, so I think that maybe makes a difference. I’m not in a relationship where that’s a concern or a question. It hasn’t really come up for me. I’m still young enough where the clock doesn’t tick quite so much the way it might for other people. I know my mother mourns that more than I do, probably. I’m okay with it now. I still have my ovaries, so I still have all my hormones. A lot of people are surprised to hear what a radical hysterectomy is, and I always thought it meant they take out everything. It really means they take out a whole lot of your lymph nodes and your uterus. I still can have someone else carry a child for me if it comes to that.
It’s been a long process. I started to visit a naturopath immediately. I’ve noticed that as soon as you get diagnosed, you lose weight. I cut out sugar, coffee, and dairy and lost ten pounds in five days. It’s pretty crazy. You start to try to take control of behaviors or parts of your body that you can control because you’ve also got this thing inside you that you have no control of. You’re not sure how it got there, how it started, and all those kinds of things. I really exercise a lot. I live in an area where it’s real easy to do. I started running lately. It’s important, and we all know that now. Good way to take control of things.
Shortly after my surgery, I went on antidepressants for a while. I’m an extroverted and social person, and I felt myself going within quite a bit more so. I went back on them recently for a solid year because the first time wasn’t long enough. It’s all based on a lot of stress. All the transition is stressful. Surgery is stressful. You want to take control of things, so you start making changes, and it’s stressful too. Good stress is hard. That was a last resort. All these things I’m doing aren’t working, and I know myself well enough to know that. I have to ask for help, and that’s the point I got to. I talk. I have a lot of outlets. I exercise a lot. I have a dog, so we get out all the time. She’s probably been my saving grace through most of everything because even if I just want to sleep all day long, I can’t. I made it a point to go and visit the sun if I need to. Living around Washington State, you really have to worry about that. Around here, Seasonal Affective Disorder is pretty big. We’re clued in to how much sun we probably should get. I’m good about that. I have talked to various counselors at various times. I haven’t quite hit on the right combination of a person yet. So I haven’t carried through with it, but I think a lot. I process a lot. I talk with other people and think more about it on my own.
I always think dating is going to be a bigger issue than it has been since then. For me, I think it’s a big issue but it’s not really. It hasn’t become one. I was with a person that was really into alternative ways of having children together, and that would’ve been great. I wonder if I had continued on, if I would’ve gone down that route. It’s a lot of influence from whom I’m with. It’s different for anybody I meet. It’s funny how it can come up really quickly because someone will say, “What are you doing?” “I’m going to school.” “For what?” “I’m studying to be a nurse.” “Why?” And then there’s the answer. It comes full circle very quickly for me. If I feel comfortable, which is most of the time, then I just tell why because I think it’s important. “I had cervical cancer, and I don’t want you to be afraid of this topic.” I don’t want anyone to be afraid. It’s silly. With anyone I meet, it comes up pretty quickly.
My out-of-pocket expenses were minimal compared to a lot of people’s; their treatments are so long. It’s an insurance nightmare afterwards. Of course, you still have to pay a lot that they don’t cover. I always would ask myself, “I wonder how people who are really sick, go through this?” I had most of my faculties, and I could barely keep up. I can’t imagine it being so much bigger and trying to keep up with that. That’s a big stress afterwards or through your treatment. Some people’s treatment lasts a really long time. Mine was short. I had to deal with that, so I could section it off, but I think that’s a nightmare. I don’t know what else could be done. Have somebody else take care of it or something. It’s hard to keep it all straight. There are so many doctors, and there were bills that you had to keep track of. It’s not very fun.
I consider myself a person of strength, but it’s not always there. I have noticed that when I do have a stress-related meltdown, it scares people. One friend said to me, “We think you have it so together and then when you don’t, we don’t know what to do.” That’s a pretty illuminating comment of what we portray and what we show. Are people checked into what’s going on with me specifically or in general with other people? I think living strong is a state of mind.
I live strong by making sure to recognize my needs on a daily basis. Processing a lot of thoughts. I have a lot of conversations with my friends and my family about as many things as we can talk about. And connecting. Roll with transitions the best we can. We’re always in it. We’re always in transition. It’s really important to me to get out there and see beautiful things, go on hikes, and go backpacking. This year, for the first time, I went on a backpack trip by myself. I’ve done a lot of trips by myself. I’ve decided that people get wrapped up in their lives, and they always want to do these things but they don’t. I don’t want to live that way. I take the time off and make it a priority. I have a really flexible schedule, so it’s easier for me. I live strong by taking care of myself.
My name is Wendy Edwards, and I’m a four-year cervical cancer survivor.