My Story with Cervical Cancer
By Patti Murillo-Casa
On August 2008, I had just retired from the New York City Police Department and was ready to enjoy retirement with my husband, when, three months later we received the shocking news, and our world as we knew it STOPPED. I thought, this is not happening. I retired and now I’m going to die from cancer? This cannot be. I did not know where it came from, and I did not know how I got it. Well, needless to say, I got a crash course on it and was scared beyond belief.
First, I have to mention that I did not visit my OB-GYN for almost four years . Why? You might ask….. Well, the same reasons so many women have: too busy, no time, I feel fine, I hate going to the gynecologist, I’ve been married for more than 10 years and so many other excuses that you can come up with. These reasons are not valid and carry no weight. I learned this the hard way.
I finally went to see my doctor in October 2008 when my bleeding between menstrual cycles continued and I was feeling very fatigued. After several tests including a vaginal sonogram and several colposcopies, I knew that what was coming next was not good.
In November 2008, my doctor finally gave me my diagnosis. I had Cervical Cancer Stage IIB – Squamous Cell Carcinoma. She had to refer me to a GYN-Oncologist. I was fortunate to have been sent to the most wonderful doctors at the NY Presbyterian Hospital in NYC. My oncologist, as gentle as possible, said to me, “The bad news is that you have cervical cancer, but the good news is that it is treatable.” Getting strength from I don’t know where and showing courage, I asked him with an authoritative voice, “How are you going to fix me?” He looked at me and smiled at the glimpse of spunk he had not seen in me until this point, and then proceeded to tell me that my tumor was too big and was already protruding the cervix so I was not a good candidate for a hysterectomy.
My treatments were going to consist of chemotherapy, and external and internal radiation. I was going to get radiation every day for the next seven weeks, chemo once a week for seven weeks and two treatments of internal radiation. He then brought up the fact about fertility. Because of the treatments of chemotherapy and radiation, I would lose the ability to have children. I made myself believe that this fact did not affect me since my husband and I had already decided not to have any children for personal reasons; but regardless of the decision, I did feel that something was being taken away from me. The choice was no longer there, and for many women that want to have children, this is a devastating fact. After this overwhelming news, my husband and I left the doctor’s office numb.
I was about to fight for my life. We took time to do a lot of crying and a lot of hugging. Under the circumstances, you tend to question your faith, your purpose and ask yourself what did I do wrong to deserve this? And you forget about the other blessings around you. We had to recharge so my husband, a pretty smart man in my book, sat down and began to empower himself with knowledge of the disease. Because of the lack of education and misconceptions of the disease on my part, I was ashamed that I had cervical cancer because of human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. I couldn’t understand because I was never promiscuous, and I had not been unfaithful to my partner.
In January 2009, I started treatments. Mondays were long, 10-hour days because of chemo and radiation. I hated Mondays. It used to take me the whole week to recuperate just in time for another Monday. Many times I just wanted to give up, but I had my husband, my rock, who literally used to dress me and take me by the hand to the treatments. Seven weeks went by and I thought I had survived the worst… Boy was I wrong. It was time for the internal radiation. The doctors inserted an implant inside the cervix with radiation rods, and I had to stay in the hospital for three days. No visitors were allowed because of the exposure of radiation. I never felt so alone. The journey was long and difficult.
On May 5, 2009, I had my positron emission tomography (PET) scan to see if treatments had worked. Many prayers had been answered. My tumor was GONE, and there were no cancer cells visible. The nightmare was over!!!
In the U.S., 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and nearly 4,000 will die every year. Cervical cancer is caused by “high-risk” types of HPV and eight out 10 women will have HPV at some point in their lives. Two of the major issues with this disease are lack of education and lack of screening. Early detection through pap tests and HPV testing are keys to prevention. No women should die nor lose their fertility to this preventable disease.
Today, I have been cancer free for two years, and I use my story in the hopes that other women will avoid what I had to endure and not become a statistic. Presently, I am the president of the New York chapter of Tamika and Friends, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about cervical cancer and its link, HPV.
On September 17, 2011, Tamika and Friends will hold their fourth annual NYC Walk to Beat the Clock. We want to publicly celebrate women who have survived, remember those who have lost their battle, support those who fight cervical cancer today and educate women on how to prevent a cervical cancer diagnosis all together! Join the fight to end cervical cancer and register to walk or consider donating to this great cause.
About Patti Murillo-Casa
Patti Murillo-Casa is a cervical cancer survivor, who was diagnosed with stage IIB cervical cancer in 2008 shortly after retiring from the NYPD. She uses her personal story in the hopes that other women will avoid what she had to endure and not become a statistic. Presently serving as president of the NewYork City chapter of Tamika and Friends, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about cervical cancer and its link to HPV. Follow Patti on Twitter and Facebook. For more information about cervical cancer awareness and other women’s health issues, visit Patti’s blog, The Voices of Two Mujeres.