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My Cancer Journey, Part 1

By Kim Lane of Virginia Beach, VA.

November 2022 marked a one-year anniversary that nobody should have.  

After a two-year hiatus from regular screenings, due to the pandemic and an insurance-related switch in physicians, I scheduled a routine pap smear in November 2021. It was obvious to my new obstetrician/gynecologist that something was unusual from the start. As she was collecting cells from my cervix for further examination, I began bleeding, and the bleeding would not stop. 

This on-the-spot biopsy revealed that I had small cell carcinoma. I was advised by my doctor not to Google it.

At the time, I was 47 years old and very healthy and active. I had never previously received an abnormal pap smear result. Prior to the visit I had experienced some vague symptoms, like bloating and spotting, but they were easily explained away as signs that I was perimenopausal. Until my actual exam I had no pain.

I was immediately referred by my provider to Dr. Stacey Rogers, who is double board-certified in Gynecologic Oncology and Obstetrics and Gynecology and on the medical staff at Chesapeake Regional Healthcare. 

A PET scan revealed that I had Stage 4 cancer. Dr. Rogers explained that she was surprised by the results. At worst she assumed it might be Stage 2 disease. Stage 4 meant the cancer could be found throughout my cervix and had even spread to my abdomen. Thankfully, although the tumors in my abdomen had “sprouted legs,” they had not yet invaded other major organs.

The day that Dr. Rogers went over my scans I inquired about my prognosis. What were my chances of beating this disease? She told me that I had a 50/50 chance of chemotherapy working to slow the progression of the cancer. If chemo didn’t work I would have a few months to live. 

I am an extremely positive person. To me, the glass is always half full. However, this is, of course, beyond anything I have ever dealt with. It was a heavy time.

My husband and I decided not to tell people about my prognosis–only some basics about my diagnosis. I didn’t want to worry anyone. I didn’t want to scare anyone. 

We were very hopeful. I tried to keep my positive attitude. And I refused to live under a dark cloud.

Shortly after my diagnosis, Dr. Rogers asked if I wanted the support of palliative care. I didn’t know what that meant. My only experience with palliative care was in a hospice setting. Dr. Rogers taught me that palliative care is not just for the dying. I am so thankful that she referred me to Megan Barkhurst Mitchell, the palliative care nurse practitioner at Chesapeake Regional Healthcare’s Home & Supportive Care

I consider Dr. Rogers the captain of my physical care, while Megan is the cheerleader for my mental health. I credit Megan and Dr. Rogers equally as much for saving my life.

I can talk to Megan about anything. She helps explain the clinical content in a real way, and gives me advice about how to cope and how to keep my rosy outlook. We meet once a quarter now, but when I was truly in the trenches, we met regularly. We emailed. We spoke on the phone. 

Megan gives me so much more than just mental health guidance. She helps me care for the physical side effects of cancer, including nausea, the glamorous world of diarrhea and constipation, hot flashes, my lack of appetite and the list of side effects could go on.

Since my diagnosis, I have undergone more than 14 rounds of chemo via a port. I have also had four or five PET scans, and just as many CT scans. 

I feel so safe and cared for in the hands of all the infusion clinicians at Chesapeake Regional’s Priority Toyota Cancer Center. They are another integral part of my support team.

While my treatment is still ongoing, I would consider myself stable. I have responded to treatment better than most would have imagined. For such a very aggressive cancer, this is a wonderful place to be.

Now I have only two significantly smaller spots on my cervix, and they have shrunk by many centimeters. My course of treatment continues to be indefinite chemo until they get all of my cancer, or my cancer stops responding– which can happen. 

I am absolutely going for the gusto–the cure–but I will take stability any time.

I wasn’t supposed to still be here. I am truly a walking miracle, backed by science and very intelligent providers. I also credit a higher power. 

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