Standing Up to Cancer During Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (And Beyond)
Guest Post by Laurie Cardin
Laurie Cardin was 48 years old when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013. Six years later, Laurie is cancer-free. She still lives with the trauma—both mental and physical—of her battle with cervical cancer. But with the support and encouragement of family, friends and support groups, Laurie has chosen to embrace life and support other women and families who are affected by cervical cancer. Laurie also advocates for the HPV vaccine and its incredible power to prevent the cancer that changed her life. In honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, Laurie shared her story with Immunize Colorado.
Life before I got cancer was spontaneous! During the summer of 2013, before I received my diagnosis, our family was incredibly busy. We’d planned three road trips to visit family across the U.S. When we weren’t road-tripping, we were constantly on the go. My daughter was 12 and full of energy which meant we were always busy and running from one thing to the next.
My yearly woman’s well check visit and pap test were scheduled for June—right as we were getting ready for our first road trip. My pap test came back abnormal but no one—not even my gynecologist—was worried. It’s very common to have abnormal results, and I was sure it was no big deal.
We jetted off on two back-to-back road trips and when we got back, I went into the doctor again for a second test. A few days later, I got a call. The call. It was a Sunday I’ll never forget. My doctor apologized for giving me the news over the phone. She told me I needed to come in immediately on Monday for a cone biopsy, which would tell them what kind of cancer I had. Boom—there it was. I had cancer.
On Monday I went in for my biopsy and they determined that I had cervical cancer. They told me it was likely caused by an infection of human papillomavirus, or HPV. I didn’t know much about HPV, but I did know that my daughter had gotten the HPV vaccine not long earlier. For a brief moment (and in many moments thereafter), I thought about how grateful I was that my daughter had already received the vaccine—making her almost 100% protected from the types of HPV that cause cervical and other cancers.
After my diagnosis I felt like I couldn’t move, meanwhile the world was flying by without me. It felt like I was in a snow globe. Every emotion I’d ever felt in my life came reeling toward me and I felt everything all at once. Breathing was nearly impossible.
My treatment included a radical hysterectomy, during which my uterus, cervix and 22 lymph nodes were removed. My husband worked out of town, which was very hard, but he was able to take three weeks of paid leave to care for me after the surgery. Before my surgery, I had made the decision to own my recovery and fight. Hard. And it worked.
The day I found out that my treatment was successful and that the cancer was gone, I felt like I was on a cloud. But I was still in a lot of pain. It took my body a year to heal, and I still experience intense chronic pelvic and vaginal pain every day.
Throughout my experience, I leaned on others for support; I couldn’t do it all myself. I saw an oncology counselor, I joined support groups and went to support class, and I took every opportunity that would help me and my family move forward. It was the immense support I got along the way that compelled me to start my organization, Cervical Cancer Colorado Connection, to help other survivors navigate life during and after cancer and to help them know they’re not alone.
In addition to supporting women affected by cervical cancer, I take every opportunity to talk to others about the importance of the HPV vaccine. I want people to know that what I went through can be prevented for other young people thanks to the HPV vaccine. As a Cervivor and HPV Free COmmunity advocate in Colorado, I help spread the word about the HPV vaccine, which has the power to prevent cancers caused by HPV in men and women. Yes—there is actually a vaccine against cancer! And I feel such personal peace knowing that my daughter is protected from it.
By ensuring our preteens are vaccinated at age 11-12 (before they are ever exposed to the virus in the first place, and when their immune systems provide the best response to the vaccine), we can all work together toward creating a world free of HPV-related cancers. Will you join me?
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. More than 13,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer each year. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is with the HPV vaccine and regular screening. Talk to your child’s doctor about the HPV vaccine!
Visit HPVFreeCO.org for more information about HPV-related cancers and the HPV vaccine.
Join the HPV Free COmmunity and speak up for the HPV vaccine in your community!