Patti

Life was going so well and about to get better, so I thought. In August of 2008, after working with the NYC Police Department for more than 20 years as a Police Officer I was retiring and joining my already retired husband. We had so many plans, we were going to travel, stop to smell the roses and just plain enjoy life. Not too many people are able to retire in their early 40's. We had worked hard and our time was here to enjoy. After enjoying retirement life for like a minute or two, we get hit with a shocking news and our world as we knew it STOPPED. This was not happening. I retired and now I'm going to die from cervical cancer? This cannot be. I did not know what it was, I did not know where it came from and I did not know how I got it. Well, needless to say I got a crashed course on it and I was scared beyond belief.

Let me rewind a little and tell you how I came to this point. First, I have to mention that I did not visit my OB-GYN for more that 3 years because..... Well, the same reasons so many women have: too busy, no time, I feel fine, I hate it, I've been married for 10+ years, etc. etc. These reasons are not valid and carry no weight. I learned this the hard way. A few months before I retired I had started bleeding on and off between mentrual cycles, so I did what a lot of us do, I ignored it. I accredited the bleeding to stress due to leaving my job. I finally got to see my doctor in October, 2008 when my bleeding had continued and now I was feeling very fatigue. After several tests including a vaginal sonogram and several colposcopies, I knew that what was coming next was not good.

On November 5, 2008, my doctor finally told me my diagnosis. She gave it a first and a last name. I had Cervical Cancer Stage IIB - Squamous cell carcinoma. She had to refer me to a GYN-ONCOLOGIST. I was fortunate to have been sent to the most wonderful doctors at the NY Presbyterian Hospital in NYC. My Oncologist as gentle as possible said to me, "the bad news is that you have cancer but the good news is that it is treatable." Getting strength from I don't know where and showing courage I asked him with an authoritative voice "how are you going to fix me?" He looked at me and smiled at the glimpse of spunk he had not seen in me until this point and then proceeded to tell me that my tumor was too big, it was already protruding the cervix so I was not a good candidate for a hysterectomy. My treatment was going to consist of chemotherapy, external and internal radiation. I was going to get radiation every day for the next 8 weeks and chemo once a week for 8 weeks. As far as the internal radiation we did not know how many treatments I would require until the end of the primary treatments. He brought up the fact about fertility, due to the treatments of chemotherapy and radiation I would lose the ability to have children. I made myself believe that this fact did not affect me since my husband and I had already decided not to have any children for personal reasons; but regardless the decision, I did feel that something was being taken away from me. I don't know what it was; maybe it was the choice of changing my mind to have children? The choice was no longer there and for many women that want to have children this is a devastating fact. My husband and I left the doctor's office numb.

I was about to fight for my life. It was like having a puzzle of 5,00 pieces. Where do you start? All the pieces look quite the same. We took time to do a lot of crying and a lot of hugging. Under the circumstances, you tend to lose your spiritual center and you begin to question your faith, your purpose and ask yourself what did I do wrong to deserve this? And you forget about the other blessings around you. We had to recharged so my husband, a pretty smart man in my book, sat down and began to empower himself with knowledge of the disease. Due to lack of education and misconceptions of the disease on my part, I was ashamed that I had cervical cancer due to HPV. My husband at no time questioned me or looked at me with any doubts instead he began to educate me about the disease.

On January 5, 2009, I started treatments. Mondays were long days due to chemo and radiation. They were 10 hour days. I hated Mondays. It used to take me the whole week to recuperate just in time for another Monday. Many times I just wanted to give up, but I had my husband, my rock, who literally use to dress me and take me by the hand to the treatments. Eight weeks went by and i thought I had survived the worst, boy was I wrong. It was time for the internal radiation. The doctors inserted an implant inside the cervix with radiation rods and I had to stay in the hospital for 3 days. No visitors were allowed due to the exposure of radiation. I never felt so alone. Day 3 was here and it was time to take the device out. I never understood why doctors give anesthesia to insert the implant but don't give you anything to take it out. Well, it is not a walk in the park. The good news was that I was going home; the bad news was I had to do another internal treatment the following week. When the time came to do the next procedure I thought I was a "PRO" at it, sort of like been there done that. I was not expecting what happened next. It was time to take the implant out but the unthinkable happened. The device was stuck; it did not want to come out. All attempts were to no avail. The doctor looked concerned and I tried not to panic but as time went by it was very difficult not to. We took a brake until another doctor came. He attempted to take it out to no avail at first then all of a sudden we heard a popping sound and finally it moved. It was out. I thanked God and I hoped that none of my other body parts had come out with it. I was going HOME. May 5, 2009, I got my PET scan to see if treatments had worked. Mine and so many other people's prayers had been answered. My tumor was GONE and there were no cancer cells visible. The nightmare was over!!!

Fast forward to 4 months later, in an attempt to put me back into circulation my brother told me about the NYC Walk to Beat the Clock, a walk for awareness and prevention of cervical cancer, and insisted that we participate. The date was September 19, 2009. That day I met the lady that inspired me, the lady that gave me the lift I needed after the tough journey I had endured. Her name is Tamika Felder. Tamika embraced me as her survivor sister. I immediately felt the warmth and a bond and said to myself  "I am not alone." Don't get me wrong, I had the support of my husband, family and friends all along and that's important but to see these amazing women together making a difference by sharing their stories, I felt inspired and I wanted to join their mission. I was not keeping quiet anymore. I was greatful for my second shot at life, I wanted to pay it forward and share my story. I wanted to educate women and let them know that this doesn't have to be. So I approached Tamika and offered my help. I wanted to become one of her "friends." I am proud to be part of Tamika & Friends, Inc. and my dedication and my mission is to spread the word about cervical cancer. This disease takes away your identity and it affects you and the people around you. Unfortunately, in many cases it even takes your life. No woman should die from this preventable disease.

Patti nycchapter@tamikaandfriends.org