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Coping with cervical cancer diagnosis

My Story | Carolann Tebbetts

 

Who I Am

My name is Carolann Tebbetts. I am 48 years old; the mother of 2 boys in college and wife to my high school boyfriend (we just celebrated our 25 anniversary this year!). I teach visual art at the high school level, and I am currently working on my MFA thesis. My life is full of activities ranging from community service through my church, leadership and advocacy roles in education as well as studio art work.

The Journey to Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with Cervical Adenocarcinoma in July of 2014. My gynecologist performed a biopsy and HPV test during an ablation procedure for heavy menstrual bleeding. She felt that something “just didn’t feel right” even though the surface of the cervix appeared healthy during both the pre-operative exam and ablation procedure itself. The HPV test was positive for type 18 – one of the highest risk HPV types.

This diagnosis was a surprise to both of us as I have none of the commonly listed cervical cancer risk factors for cervical cancer (numerous partners, early or numerous pregnancies, smoking, long term use of oral birth control, obesity, failure to have routine exams and pap smears, etc). Every one of my pap tests (sometimes women refer to this as a “Pap smear”) was negative for abnormal cells – the test did not sample cells far enough into the cervical canal to detect changes in the glandular tissue.

Furthermore, symptoms that I presented with 4 years ago, spotting after intercourse and profuse clear discharge, were explained as symptoms of perimenopause after a pap, multiple uterine biopsies, and an internal ultrasound failed to detect any issues. I was never in any pain and the symptoms were certainly not affecting my quality of life. The peri-menopausal reasoning made sense; after all, I was a woman of that age and had experienced more than one hot flash!

My cervical cancer was staged by my oncologist at 1B. After a PET scan determined that the cancer had not metastasized, I was scheduled for surgery. On August 14th I underwent a radical hysterectomy with removal of the tubes, ovaries and pelvic lymph nodes. The margins were clean thankfully.

The recovery from surgery has been slow and it has prevented me from starting the school year in September. However, this is a minor consequence in comparison to the emotional roller coaster of a cervical cancer diagnosis. I will be screened for metastases for the next 5 years, so the ride will be ongoing until I am considered "cured".

What's Important for Me to Share

I am incredibly lucky that it was discovered early, but I can't help but wonder if this crazy ride could have been avoided. A positive HPV DNA test before I had cancer could have been a red flag for me and might have led to a different outcome. I am thankful that my nieces and female students are unlikely to experience what I have because of the HPV vaccine. With increasing use of the HPV DNA test, hopefully fewer women will experience the roller coaster ride that I and my family have been on!

 

Personal Story told 2014.

 

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