Atlanta, Blue Cross, Blue Cross Blue Shield, cancer, Cancer Treatment PET scan, cervical cancer, chemo, chemotherapy, Dr. Hines, Dr. Kono, Dr. Lynch-Miller, Dr. Stapleford, Dr. Williams, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Illonois, internal radiation, money, radiation, Southern Regional Medical Center, Zion, zion illinois
I went for a routine pap test in April 2011 and that day my whole life changed. As my doctor started to begin the examination, she stopped and looked at me with such concern on her face that I knew something was wrong. Dr. Lynch-Miller said she needed to send me to another doctor. I asked her why and she said that she could see a large mass on my cervix and that she was very concerned about it. I questioned what it could be and her exact words were “Honey, I’m afraid from the size of the mass that it could be cancer”. I broke down. She set me up to go see a surgeon, Dr. Hines, within the next 2 weeks. Jeremy went with me to the appointment this time. I was too afraid to go alone. The doctor examined me and said he wanted to do a biopsy of the tumor and see if it is cancer or not. He said if it is not, we will do surgery to remove the mass and if it is cancer, I would have to do a hysterectomy. I was terrified. I asked if there were any other options and Dr. Hines said no, I would have to have a hysterectomy.
I was set up to go to Southern Regional Medical Center on June 10 for the LEEP biopsy. Exactly 1 week before my surgery, a lady from the financial center at the hospital called me and said that since this was such an expensive surgery and because I had not met my deductible of $3500, I would need to give them $3483 up front (I had only met $17 of my deductible at the time) or they would cancel my surgery. Obviously I didn’t have that kind of money just lying around to spend on this. They did not care. She said I had until 2:00pm on June 9 to come up with the money or it would be canceled. Finally on June 9, I was able to talk them into taking $500 since that was all I could get. They agreed. I went in the next morning and had the biopsy done. It wasn’t too bad except for going into the unknown. I was a little sore the next day but that was it.
2 weeks later on June 22, Jeremy and I went back to Dr. Hines office for the results. A doctor walks in that I have never even see before, examines me, and they says “your results came back positive for cervical cancer” just like it was nothing. First of all, have a little compassion, and secondly, why isn’t my doctor telling me this kind of news instead of some random??? But anyways, she said I needed to go to another facility to have a CT and PET scan done to see what stage the cancer is in and also to see if it had spread anywhere else. Here came trouble again. The place I was going for the scans was on the same money boat. If I could not pay them up front, they would not see me. I asked the lady there if there was anyway around that because I didn’t have the money and this is not something I can sit around and wait on. Again, nobody cared. I was lost and did not know what to do next. I knew I had to find another option.
I started doing research on the computer and came across Cancer Treatment Centers of America and emailed them. Within a day or two a lady named Carol Anderson contacted me. I told her everything I had been through and she said she could not believe anyplace would be more concerned about the money the somebody’s health. She ran my insurance and a short time later said Blue Cross had approved me to go to their facility in Zion, Illinois for testing and treatment. My prayers had been answered!! I left for Zion on August 9. Jeremy had to get Bubba and Remy to his grandparents in Johnson City, TN for them to dog-sit before he could fly up there to be with me. He arrived 2 days later. Upon arriving at CTCA, I knew I had made the right choice coming there. Unlike the other doctors and hospitals I had been dealing with, CTCA was concerned about ME and never asked me for a dime. After 2 long days of testing, they said I was in Stage 1B2. Which was a good thing, that meant it had not spread anywhere. The moment Dr. Williams examined me, she said “you cannot have surgery, your tumor is way too big”. She said if they would have done a hysterectomy like Dr. Hines had planned, it could have killed me. Dr. Williams explained that there was no good tissue by the tumor due to the size and you would have had to cut into the tumor and that is not something you want to do. At that point, I was kind of glad they wanted all the money and that it got me to where I was! she then told us that I would have to have 6 weeks of daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy to shrink the tumor down and that later on I may have to have surgery to remove the cervix. I was devastated!!! I didn’t know what to think at that point. You hear so many stories about people going through chemo and how rough it is and I was terrified. I made the choice to stay there for the 6 weeks and receive my treatments.
I got to go home for the weekend to pick up our dogs, get back to Atlanta and get me packed for the 6 week stay. By this time, I was ok with the decision and knew it had to be done. I was going to have to be in Zion by myself so Jeremy could still work during my sickness. I flew back to begin treatment on Sunday. As soon as I got to my room, I called Jeremy crying and told him I couldn’t do this and I wanted to come home. He was at a loss and could only try to give me words of encouragement, but it wasn’t working. I wanted to leave and come home right then! Jeremy told me to talk to my doctor the next morning and see what she thought about my situation. I did just that the very next day.
The doctor I spoke to that morning said they would have to check into some things to see if they could find me a doctor closer to home but for me to just give it time and that I would be ok. I went ahead and did my first radiation treatment around 1. It was nothing really. I expected some bright laser or something. All that happened was I layed on a table and this huge round machine went around me and would buzz every now and again. It all lasted about 1 minute and it was over. No light, no feeling it, nothing, just a buzzing sound. They told me the side effects from the radiation would mostly be fatigue. The worst part of the radiation was that it would cause me to never be able to have children because the radiation would fry my eggs. They were not kidding about the fatigue! But that didn’t start until about 2 weeks into it. I went afterwards and talked to the doctor again to see if they found me a doctor at home (I was Not going back to Dr. Hines). Again, she tried to talk me into staying. I told her 1 of 2 things was going to happen, either I go back to Atlanta and go to a different doctor there and get my treatment or I go back to Atlanta and pretend this never happened and I’ll just go on with my life. Either way, I was going back to Atlanta. They thought I was nuts! But I was serious. I could not take being that far away from home, going through what I was about to go through and be alone. They told me to go for my chemotherapy at 5:00 and they would do all they could to find me a doctor. I arrived for my first chemo treatment absolutely terrified. I imagined I was going to be sick through the whole thing and all that you see in movies and tv. My Aunt Linda had gone through cervical cancer several years ago and was there for me to always talk to and she would tell me everything that was going to happen and what it was like for her so I at least wasn’t going in it all completely blind. But I still had crazy thoughts about what it was going to Really be like. First, they draw blood and insert your iv. They have do your blood work to make sure your blood levels are good because if they are too low you cannot receive chemo. So then I had to sit around for about 30 minutes waiting on the results. The chemo nurse explained how the whole process would work. I would first be given fluids through the iv to keep me hydrated and that took an hour. Next, I got antinausea meds for another hour. Then the chemo which took another hour. For my first treatment, they gave me another hour of hydration after the chemo for another 60 minutes but never that extra hour any other times. I didn’t get sick or even feel sick at all getting the chemo. All I felt was sleepy from the meds. When it was finally over, I went back to my room and fell asleep. The next morning, I went to see if they had found me a doctor yet and they said they had found about 4 around me and they were waiting to hear back to see who could take me. I was ecstatic!!! The doctor said to go ahead that morning and have my radiation treatment and come back and see what they have found out. When I came back at 1, she said Emory University Hospital was going to treat me. I was told the flight leaves at 4 and could I be packed by 2:00 to be picked up. I told her I never unpacked and I was ready to go right then. I made it back to Atlanta that night and couldn’t have been more relieved.
The next day I went to the Winship Cancer Institue at Emory Midtown and met my chemo doctor, Dr. Kono and my radiation doctor, Dr. Stapleford. I got my chemo every Monday and my radiation everyday for the next 6 weeks. It was rough. Very rough. The day of chemo would not be too bad. I would start feeling ill around Monday evening. By Tuesday, I felt awful. Sick everyday and night. It got to be routine to wake up at about 2am every morning sick for about an hour. I had days that I just wanted to give up and stop treatment altogether. Without Jeremy, Aunt Linda, Beverly and Cindy there to encourage me I probably would have given up. Every Sunday I would be starting to feel a little better but would cry knowing the next morning I would have to start all over again with the sickness. I really hated not being able to go do anything. I tried to go to Walmart one day with Jeremy and after about 10 minutes I felt so worn out I could have layed down right there. I was so over it all.
After 5 weeks of chemo and radiation my doctor told me that my blood levels were too low and I needed to have a blood transfusion the next morning. That process took about 5 hours. But by the time I walked out of there, I did feel a lot better. It gave me back some of my energy I had been missing the past few weeks. After I completed the 6 weeks, I had to do 2 sets of internal radiation. Now, that was rough! I went into the hospital Monday morning at 6am and was put to sleep to have this crazy metal bar thing (don’t know how to really describe it) inside of me pointed right at the tumor and the other end stuck out of me a couple of inches. I could not even sit up with it inside me. I had to stay laying down with it for the next 2 days. On Monday and Tuesday they would hook wires to the apparatus and that would send radiation directly to the tumor to blast it heavily. On Tuesday after the treatment, Dr. Diaz told me he was going to take the thing back out of me, without putting me back to sleep. I was on morphine the whole time, but morphine was not helping! It literally felt like he was ripping out my insides for about 2 minutes straight. It was the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. Jeremy said he could hear me screaming down the hallway. I had to go back the very next Monday and do that whole process again. This time I told Dr. Diaz I was not having that taken back out of me again unless they give me a shot of morphine right before (getting the shot would make the pain go instantly away where the pump I was using for the morphine didn’t quite do the trick as well). He kept telling me it wouldn’t be as bad this time and I still told him it wasn’t happening! When the time came, I told them I was not even going into the room until someone gave me a shot and I stayed right there in the hallway on a stretcher until a nurse came with my shot!
Luckily, that was the end of treatment. Thank God! I went back to the doctor for scans 8 weeks later. The results came back that my tumor was completely gone, which was not expected but Great news, and all the cancer from the cervix was gone. Woohoo! But there was some “activity” showing up in the wall of my uterus that they were not sure if it was cancer or not. They sent me to see Dr. Spann, the surgeon, for him to see what he thought. He said that he thought they scanned me too soon and that the “activity” was just cancer cells still dying off. He had me wait another 4 weeks and come back again and let him do another pap test and see how the results came back.
On March 2, 2012 the doctor told me the test came back negative and I was cancer free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was so happy that this was finally over. This was definitely the hardest thing I had ever gone through in life and I hope to never go through it again! I never expected it to happen to me, but that just shows what life can bring!
I am forever thankful to all the wonderful people in my life that were there for me every step of the way: Jermey, Aunt Linda, Beverly, Cindy, Rosie, Sue, Jon, Mark, Courtney, Phyllis, Mike, Susie. Thank you all for either being there for me in person or checking up on me throughout this. Just a phone call to see how I was meant the world to me. Times like this, you find out who Really cares for you!! Thanks again for getting me through it! Love you all!!!