By Shannon Reardon
The memories from Feb. 5, 2015 will forever be seared into my brain. My brother, my mother, my stepfather, and I were sitting in the living room watching TV after dinner. The air was thick with tension from an earlier text, “I want to have a family meeting tonight,” sent by my mother. After an episode of TMZ, my parents turned the TV off and began our family meeting.
My mom asked my brother and me if we had noticed how often she had been visiting her doctor’s office lately. Once we told her that we did, she sat in silence for a minute before speaking. “I have cervical cancer,” she told us. As soon as I heard those words my heart dropped and my brain shut down. No one ever tells you how hard it is to watch a parent get sick, and if he did, it wouldn’t prepare you for what you actually go through. I left school at the end of February to free up my schedule during the times my mom would need rides to and from Fox Chase Crozer Keystone Regional Cancer Center.
I watched my mom go from the strong woman with whom I fought constantly to a woman who had to focus all of her strength into her fight against cancer. My mom is not alone in her fight against cervical cancer; according to The World Cancer Research Fund, cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer affecting women.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common cause of cervical cancer and affects about 12,000 women, most commonly over the age of 30, in the United States yearly. The CDC also states that HPV is one of the commonly transmitted diseases, and at least half of sexually active individuals will get HPV at some point their lives.
Experts at the CDC, WCRF, and other health organizations report that the most effective way to prevent HPV is to practice safe sex, which would lower the number of women being diagnosed with cervical cancer. The National Cancer Institute also links having multiple children to an increased risk to cervical cancer.
“Promiscuity, multiple sexual partners, leads to multiple opportunities to get infected with the virus,” says Dr. Robert K. Roush Jr., a medical oncologist at Fox Chase Crozer Keystone Regional Cancer Center. “Besides getting vaccinated for HPV and not being promiscuous, there is nothing else that can lead to cervical cancer, as far as risk factors.”
Regular screenings, or Pap tests, can help find cervical precancers, but women can also be vigilant while looking for possible symptoms. The symptoms for cervical cancer, as listed by the American Cancer Society, are abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, other various pelvic pains, and unusual vaginal discharge. Once diagnosed with cervical cancer, or any other type of cancer, a medical oncologist, like Roush, will meet with a patient and go through variables such as age, severity of cancer, and courses of treatment, whether it be surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of the three, to decide how to move forward and eliminate the cancer. Prognosis for remission and the likelihood of staying in remission vary just as much as the patient’s courses of treatment.
Roush added. “You just have to keep it under control for as you can.” My mom was in stage 2B when her cancer was discovered. Her team of doctors, including Roush, decided that for her course of treatment it was best to do a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. Monday through Friday she would go in for radiation treatments, and Wednesdays she would stay after radiation and do her chemotherapy.The weeks were always hardest Wednesday to Sunday because of how physically draining the chemo was. “I only feel good at the beginning of the week,” she would tell us. The days after chemo she would mostly sleep, and if she ate it was a light meal like crackers and soup. The staff at Crozer Fox Chase all helped my mom considerably, but one that stood out to me was a medical secretary named Luci Russello.
On the days that I would pick my mom up from chemo, Russello made it a priority to not only check to see how my mom was doing, but also how I was handling her going through treatment. Kindness, she told me countless times, and being there for someone is one of the best things you can do for a person going through treatment. As of November the doctors began to say that there weren’t any cancerous cells to be found.
My mom is now in remission and her doctors are decreasing her visits. They will still have to monitor her to see if the cancer does decide to return, but as of right now she is healthy. It was a long fight, but I am so happy and thankful for all the people that support her, and all the friends and family members that were there for me as well.