‘Why is my doctor calling me at 6:30 a.m?’ They made the decision I wasn’t having more kids.’: Mom reflects on cervical cancer journey, ‘It changed the way I think about life’

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“I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in July of 2012. Cancer was never a thought in my mind. Neither was a yearly pap smear. I had been putting it off for so long, I honestIy forgot about it. I was a 28 year old mother of 4 young kids. I had no signs, nor symptoms. A cervical screening was the last thing I thought I needed.

Courtesy of Alicia Garcia
Courtesy of Alicia Garcia

I remember one morning my alarm woke me from a very deep sleep. I was groggy and out of it, and the first thing that popped in my mind was, ‘I need to get a pap smear.’ It was such a strange thing to think of so randomly first thing in the morning. Especially since I wasn’t the type of person to get a yearly exam from my doctor. The only time I ever went to the doctor was if I was sick or pregnant. I brushed it off and started getting ready for work.

As the day went on, I couldn’t get the random thought out of my head. It was such a strange thing to wake up to. I decided to just go ahead and schedule an appointment to ease my mind. My appointment came and went without issues, and I quickly forgot about it. Two days later, I got the call that changed everything.

I had just woken up, and was about to jump in the shower before work when my phone rang. The name of my doctor’s office popped up on my screen. I remember thinking, ‘Why is my doctor’s office calling me at 6:30 in the morning?! Are they even open yet?’ I answered the phone and my doctor explained to me that my test results from the pap smear came back. There were some cells found on my cervix that were abnormal, and they needed me to come in that day to have a biopsy done. She explained that my lab results also came back and said she was very concerned about cancer. My mind went blank after that word. I didn’t understand. I was so confused. I made arrangements for my kids and my mom went with me to have the biopsy done that afternoon.

The biopsy results came back a few days later, and confirmed what I already felt deep down. It was cancer. After a few other tests, I was diagnosed with stage 2B Adenocarcinoma of the cervix. I was referred to Arizona Oncology in Phoenix and scheduled for my initial appointment the following week. That week was probably the hardest. I was unsure of the next steps and what to even expect. I was unsure of how to even begin trying to explain any of this to my children. They were so small and wouldn’t understand. That’s the only word I can even use to describe that week. UNSURE. Was I going to live? Were my kids going to grow up without me? Would I have to do chemotherapy? Everything was up in the air. I was so lost and scared. I chose to wait to tell my children. I didn’t want to worry them. I wanted to wait until I knew answers to the questions that I knew they were going to have. My family was scared and worried. The week lugged on and all we could do was pray.

My step mom went with me to my first oncology appointment in Phoenix. The almost 2 hour drive was long and quiet, but I was so thankful for her support. The oncologist explained everything to me in further detail. He was so thorough and explained everything in ways I was able to understand without a degree in medicine. He then explained that, with how advanced the cancer was, our only option was a radical hysterectomy. We wouldn’t know if chemotherapy or radiation would be necessary until after the hysterectomy and further testing was done, but the chances of survival with the hysterectomy were very high. I knew a hysterectomy was a possibility, but I was hoping for something a little less invasive. Even though I was fairly certain I was done having children, I wasn’t prepared to have that decision made for me. Not to mention, I would be down for several weeks. I had small kids. Being out of commission for that long would be almost impossible. I was devastated.

Courtesy of Alicia Garcia

My surgery was scheduled for the following week. I had one week to get my life prepared to be put on hold. I worked full time in Human Resources and I needed to get everything together for someone to step in my place for a few months. I was so thankful for the family and friends that surrounded me with love and offered prayers and help. I couldn’t have made it through without them. When it was time to sit down with my kids, I was still unsure if I even wanted to tell them. I was so worried about how they would take it. I didn’t know if they would understand anything about cancer. They already knew something was wrong. Children can always sense when something is off. I explained it to them in the simplest form I could for their ages, making sure to answer every question they had. They still didn’t completely understand what was happening, but their sweet, concerned faces broke my heart. The rest of the week was spent cuddling and spending time with my sweet babes.

I don’t remember much about the day of my surgery. I just remember the fear and praying that they would be able to remove all of the cancer. Because this was a radical hysterectomy, a laparoscopic hysterectomy was not an option. A transverse incision would be needed. Waking up from surgery was excruciating. I remember them asking me my pain level and all I could think to tell them was 12. I spent 4 days in the hospital, and several weeks at home recovering. After a week at home, I was preparing to get in the shower, when my phone rang. I was standing in the same exact place I was just 3 weeks prior when I received the initial call telling me I had cancer. This time, it was the oncologist calling me to let me know that the lymph nodes that were removed during surgery came back negative for cancer. I was officially cancer free. There is no way to describe the happiness, relief, and gratitude I felt in that moment.

Cancer changed my life. In so many ways. It changed me. It changed the way I think about life. It made me want to change the way I lived my life and who I wanted to become. While the road to change was long and painful at times, I am so thankful to still be here. I’m thankful for the love of my family and children. I am thankful I was able to raise my children and watch them grow. I was here to watch them play in footballI, softball and soccer games and teach them to drive. I sent them off to proms and high school graduations and, God willing, will continue to do so. While cancer took a piece of me, I was blessed with so much more in return.

Courtesy of Alicia Garcia
Courtesy of Alicia Garcia

A little over a year after my diagnosis, I met and fell in love with the love of my life. And with him, came 3 beautiful children. While I was no longer able to have children, I was still blessed with 3 more children to love. My life has been blessed in more ways I can count.

Courtesy of Alicia Garcia
Courtesy of Alicia Garcia
Courtesy of Alicia Garcia

My story has a happy ending, but so many do not. When diagnosed, cervical cancer is the most successfully treatable forms of cancer, as long as it is detected early and managed effectively. You can lower your risk for cervical cancer by getting screened regularly starting at age 21. My only hope is that my story will create awareness in early detection with regular screenings.”

Courtesy of Alicia Garcia
Courtesy of Alicia Garcia

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alicia Garcia of Arizona, USA. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d love to hear your journey; submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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