My Teal Journey
- By Samantha Milton
My name is Samantha and I’m 30 years old. I work in medical imaging and am a mom of 2 year old boy.
On April 29, 2019, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Earlier in the year, I had requested to have my IUD removed as my husband and I were ready to try to conceive again. There were some complication trying to get my IUD out which led to an ultrasound and an MRI. I had a really bad feeling about it all but even my doctor reassured me that I was young and healthy. He told me it was likely a begnin cyst and worst case scenario, we would just need to laser some cells off. He promised me I would have more babies. But then the call came. “Can you come in right now?” Doctors don’t ask to see you immediately when it’s good news…
I rushed to the office in tears, trying to convince myself everything was still okay. In the office, my gynaecologist sat down next to me, passed me a tissue and said, “It seems we’re dealing with cervical cancer.” My. World. Stopped. I went home and broke down in my husbands arms. I called my mom. How do you tell your mom that her only child has cancer?
I had another CT and I cried during the procedure. How did I end up on the other side of the scanner? I’m supposed to be working on the other side of this. It was a humbling moment.
By the end of the week we were meeting my oncologists. This is where I learn't the worst news yet. Not only did I have cancer, but my fertility was being ripped away from me. I was scheduled for a hysterectomy and would likely have radiation (which would kill my ovaries and put me in menopause) and possibly chemo.
I was devastated.
Two days after my son’s 2nd birthday, I underwent surgery. I woke up to find that the hysterectomy had been aborted though because they had found more cancer in my lymph nodes.
I spent my summer doing weekly chemo and daily radiation treatments. All I kept thinking was, I was supposed to be pregnant – not this. On July 1st, I remember feeling so depressed and sorry for myself. I spent the day crying because I wanted so badly to be outside celebrating our country, enjoying the weather and a drink. Instead, I was bedridden from chemo. I cried all day. In that moment I wanted to die – It seemed easier. Fortunately I felt safe enough to talk to my husband who pulled me out of the dark hole I had put myself in.
Then brachytherapy happened (internal radiation). It was so inhumane and traumatizing I can barely speak of it without tears. Basically, I was vacuum sealed to a bed and they rammed 4 or so rods up inside me and let me lay there for hours, awake with only an Ativan to calm my nerves and some pain medication. I screamed and cried for more meds. I have nightmares from these therapies, they would obsessively replay in my head and being intimate with my husband became nearly impossible – I usually end up bawling.
This wasn’t how my year was supposed to be.
My treatments only lasted 8 weeks. They were short but aggressive. I finally got the call that my scans looked good! But for some reason I didn’t feel relieved. Everyone was celebrating but I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And then it did...
My oncologist called and said she had taken my case to the tumour board. This board of doctors was concerned that my cancer was aggressive and thought I would benefit from more chemotherapy. This time I felt prepared for the news – My husband, not so much. He was blindsided and angry which left me feeling alone.
I underwent 4 of 6 more therapies under their recommendation. Finally, I felt like I could breath. Unlike the last time I was given the “all good”, this time I felt good.
A big misconception is that this is an “easy” cancer. I can tell you, nothing about my journey has been easy. I grieve my health and fertility everyday, I have nightmares about what I’ve been through and I will always have the anxiety and worry of cancer returning. Every ache or pain, I wonder if it’s cancer. Every pregnancy announcement, I think that should’ve been me. Why did this happen to me? I am young, I was healthy, and I went to all my checks up. I had a clean history but yet, it happened, even though I did everything right.
I’m left with a body I don’t recognize. It’s been so beat up; my hips always hurt, I’ve gained weight, my bowels are messed up and I’m constantly fatigued. People expect me to bounce back because I am young but that’s not how it works. A lot of these side effects will be permanent. This is my new normal.
I share my story because cervical cancer can be prevented. There’s an HPV vaccine, I hadn’t known was available to me. Also, going for your regular check ups and pap tests can help detect these cells before they become cancer in most cases (unfortunately, not mine). If you are having symptoms, speak up! And don’t stop speaking up! Advocate for yourself. If I can save one woman this misery then I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do.
My journey is not over. I’m still waiting to hear the words “no evidence of disease” and I’m still battling side effects everyday. I don’t know why or how this happened to me but I do know it needs to be talked about. Get vaccinated and book your pap!