Five years ago, I found out a lot about myself when I was diagnosed with Stage Ib1 glandular adenocarcinoma cervical cancer with poorly differentiated cells. My cancer was HPV (human papillomavirus) related. I had to make a choice, and I chose to fight.
After going through surgery and recovery, the next phase of my journey started. That journey was getting to the important five-year mark where the odds are in your favor for never having a recurrence. It’s not a 100 percent guarantee, but the odds decrease with each year of a clear follow-up. Don’t get me wrong – the post PTSD is just as bad as the original diagnosis. I found myself scared before each visit, wondering what the oncologist would find, and then had to wait for the results to come in, which sometimes took weeks.
There is a lot of misconception about HPV-related cancers. I was a faithful wife married to a faithful husband. Unfortunately, 98 percent of the population today has some form of the HPV virus in their system. Some of us can fight it off and some of us can’t. These types of HPV-related cancers can cause cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers in women, and throat, anal, penile, brain, and oral cancers in men. It doesn’t discriminate.
Over my five-year journey, I chose to become an advocate for other women and men who are going through diagnosis and treatment like I did. I started a support group called Teal Ladies Move Mountains (www.tealladiesmovemountains.com) and teamed up with a wonderful group of women called The Cap Crusaders who make knit caps and blankets by hand. My sister, Susan, also got involved and makes hats and blankets for me as well. My husband, Jeff, and I started #HatsofFaith, and we mail the items to cancer patients here and abroad. We’ve donated hundreds of them to Loma Linda Hospital’s children’s and adult cancer units.
Prevention and early detection are crucial to eradicating these types of cancers. Women and men should pay attention to their bodies and see a doctor at the first sign of something that doesn’t seem right. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and it could save your life. It saved mine. It’s important for women and men to support each other in regard to HPV-related cancers to help stop the stigmas that go along with the diagnosis.
There are vaccines available for adolescents, but as with any other immunization, each parent has to weigh any risk or benefit to their children. It’s important to talk with your primary care physician and get all the facts.
Last September, my husband threw me a five-year cancer-free party. It was so important to celebrate this milestone. The celebration was attended by family and friends, some of whom are also survivors or currently battling cancer today. I still have PTSD and I always will, but I also have a great support system, which is crucial to a successful recovery.
I’m also happy to report I’m now HPV-free since my surgery. It’s important that couples in a relationship stay faithful to each other so they don’t spread other HPV strains to their partners, which could be a death sentence.
I know this is a hard topic to talk about, and I can honestly say I never thought this would happen to me. My goal now is to educate others so it doesn’t happen to them. If anyone would like to reach out to me for information, I can be contacted at #tealladiesmovemountains, a public figure page on Facebook, or email@example.com. I also have an all-women’s private Facebook group called CERVICAL OVARIAN VULVAR ALL GYNECOLOGICAL CANCERS.
Loretta Goldthrite Baylos is a survivor and advocate for educating others about cervical cancers