By Diane Talley
By the time my retirement rolled around in 2006, we had it all planned. My husband had been retired for several years, and we were excited to move back to our hometown and spend more time with our three sons and seven grandchildren.
We also wanted to travel, so we bought a recreational vehicle and set off to see this beautiful country.
In 2011, while on a trip to the East Coast, I started feeling pain in my lower abdomen and lower back, as well as some spotting. I was concerned but not overly worried.
My small cell cervical cancer (SCCC) diagnosis
When we returned home in December, I went to see my doctor for my annual pap test. My doctor was unable to do the pap test because my uterus was enlarged, so he recommended I see a gynecologist and have a pelvic ultrasound and CT scan.
The gynecologist reviewed the scans and did biopsies. When I went in for my follow-up appointment, he told me it was cancer. He explained that this was a very aggressive and rare cancer and there wasn't much known about this particular type. In fact, he had only seen one other case in his medical career. The diagnosis was extensive neuroendocrine small cell carcinoma mixed with adenocarcinoma. He set up an appointment with Michael Frumovitz, M.D., at MD Anderson.
Afterwards, Dr. Frumovitz consulted with his team and with Anuja Jhingran, M.D., in Radiation Oncology. They agreed that surgery was not an option for me. Chemotherapy was my only hope.
I was terrified. Thinking back, I remembered that my dad couldn't handle his chemo while fighting esophageal cancer, so they stopped it and he was only able to complete his radiation treatments. He lost his battle in six short months. What if I couldn't handle chemo either?
Beating the beast: My cervical cancer treatment
My SCCC battle began on Feb. 20, 2012. I completed three rounds of chemotherapy (cisplatin and etoposide) followed by another scan. The chemo was working. After three more rounds, I began consolidative radiation therapy.
I received 25 external radiation treatments in the para-aortic and pelvic areas, followed by two low-dose-rate intracavitary implants. I'm happy to say that I have been blessed with clear scans for the past year-and-a-half.
Connecting with and supporting other SCCC patients
During my cervical cancer treatment, I found an amazing group of women on Facebook called the SCCC/LCCC: Sisters United. Small cell cervical cancer is extremely rare, so I was so thrilled to find a large group of other SCCC patients and survivors. I was not alone anymore. This group has helped answer many questions and has given me so much love throughout my journey. I found comfort knowing I could always count on my "sisters" for support, love and cyber hugs.
This exceptional group began fundraising to support research for SCCC. They are determined to educate the public about this rare and aggressive cervical cancer. We are truly blessed to have Dr. Frumovitz involved with this group and are so grateful to him and the team who were instrumental in creating a Tumor Registry. A large number of these courageous ladies are participating in the registry, and we all hope that one day there will be a cure for SCCC.
Thriving after SCCC
I never gave up hope. I stayed positive, believed in my doctors and kept my faith in God. I know I'm truly blessed and I'm thankful for every day. I'm living my life to the fullest. My husband and I hope to get back to traveling soon to achieve our goal of visiting all the lower 48 states ... maybe even Alaska.