My cervical cancer journey began in late July 2001, when after 11 years of marriage, at the age of 34, I got pregnant by accident. I say “by accident” because we were “waiting to be financially secure.” In hindsight I now realize unless you hit the lottery most normal folks are never really financially secure!
I went to my Ob/Gyn for my initial pregnancy visit and they did a routine Pap. I had no clue what HPV was, let alone that my life was about to change.
A few days later the doctor called to say she needed to see me, my Pap came back abnormal (ASCUS), they needed to do another test and there was a risk of miscarriage associated with it. She followed up with “Oh and by the way you have an STD, it’s called HPV and 80% of women today are walking around with it.” My jaw was on the floor and I was mortified beyond words. Me? A STD? WHAT?
I left the office in shock. I drove home trying to compose myself so that I could figure out how to tell my husband. Mind you, I still had no idea I had cancer.
Mid-November, I got the first available appointment with a doctor who was willing to do the risky colposcopy (ah! it had a name now) on a pregnant woman and we made the appointment for December 12, 2001.
I arrived armed with the words my Ob/Gyn said, “It is just a test to see your cervix, there won’t be a biopsy, you are fine, don’t worry.” The doctor came in with a nurse and explained the procedure and the side effects and what to watch for as far as complications since I was pregnant. She also joked that I shouldn’t be there just for ASCUS, and said since I looked like a deer trapped in headlights that the nurse could stand up by my shoulders and hold my hand to calm me down if that would help. As soon as she got the speculum in and swabbed the acid solution around she looked at the nurse and said to both of us at the same time that she needed the nurse down with her. I got a bit panicked. The nurse went down with the doctor and the doctor asked if the nurse could see what she was looking at and the nurse said yes. The next thing I knew the doctor had taken a biopsy and I knew right then and there I had cancer. She said the results would be back in about a week and her office would call me.
On December 26, 2001 I got a call from the doctor who told me that I had cancer and that she wanted to see me as soon as possible. My husband and I went to see her and she painted a horrible picture. I had the rarer of the two kinds of cervical cancer you can have. We thanked her very much for her time and we left. We called everyone we knew and networked for a doctor who could do a second opinion.
After a second opinion at Memorial Sloan Kettering, we ended up at NYU. The doctor there did another colposcopy and told us that the pregnancy saved my life. He said the cancer was so far imbedded in my cervix that by the time they would have found it I would have been stage IV. He told us he would try to get me to 34 weeks, at which point the perinatologist would perform a c-section and he would immediately follow with a radical hysterectomy.
I had an amnio right before my son was born to see if his lungs could handle being born early. My son grabbed the needle as it went into my stomach. The doctor could not believe her eyes as she watched him do it. The fluid they took out indicated that his lungs could handle it.
March 13, 2002 — D-day or should I say C-day? At 9:36 am, my beautiful, redheaded, miracle baby son was delivered by c-section and my radical hysterectomy began. I was awake for all five hours of surgery under an epidural only. I laughed and joked while they were cutting, “I want to see my uterus” I said. “Can you do tummy tuck while you are down there?” I asked. They laughed and gave me more drugs; I woke up in the recovery room, uterus gone but ovaries intact.
Fast forward 9 days. My son and I are home. My mom is with us. I am in the rocker breastfeeding and the phone rings. She answers it — my biopsy results: vaginal margins clear, lymph nodes clear, cancer free, no further treatment. I cry silent tears of joy and I shake. Oprah calls it “the ugly cry.” My mother tells the nurse she needs to hang up because her grandson is now having a milkshake because I am crying and shaking so hard.
In May 2007, I got the results from my 5-year check up. I was fine. We named our son “Matthew” — it means “Gift from God” — yes indeed!
Eight years later, I am, knock on wood, still cancer free with a wonderful miracle son. I still wait for the other shoe to drop, as most cancer patients I have met told me they do as well, but I don’t let it get in the way of living my life to its absolute fullest.
After my son was born I found wonderful support online from a woman named Tamika Felder who created Tamika & Friends after her own battle with cervical cancer. Although I didn’t meet her until after my cancer ordeal she has become a friend I can turn to no matter what.
On September 25, 2010 I will be taking part in the Walk to Beat the Clock event that Tamika & Friends sponsors in NYC. Come join us to help raise awareness and funds to end this horrible disease. For more information, visit www.WalkToBeatTheClock.org — if you are unable to attend the Walk, you can still support Tamika & Friends with a donation.
Lisa Gaskin holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Pace University and a Master of Science in Elementary Education from Long Island University. She has previously been the Director of Admissions at Long Island University’s Westchester campus at Dobbs Ferry, the Registrar for the Scarsdale Adult School and the Director of the Scarsdale Chamber of Commerce. She currently resides in Milford, CT and is the proud mother to son Matthew, 8.