I met Michelle Whitlock 3 years ago at a retreat for cancer survivors. As women who had been diagnosed in our 20’s, we clicked immediately and began a friendship. We talked about the painful treatment process – lives interrupted as young adults – and the even more painful side effects of infertility.
But mostly we discussed how when one door slams shut, another one opens. And that is a bond in our friendship, this shared value of positive thinking and that everything will work out just how it’s supposed to. Michelle is now a published author of an award-winning book sharing her story through cervical cancer and the choices she made. I highly recommend – you can read more here at Amazon.
Check out the book on Amazon
Founder/Chief Mission Officer, MyLifeLine.org
Choices That Shape Our Lives
By Guest Blogger Michelle L. Whitlock, Cervical Cancer Survivor and Author, How I Lost My Uterus and Found My Voice (www.howilostmyuterus.com)
The choices I made when cancer blew-up my world shaped the person I am today. Life is a series of choices. Some of these choices are easy to make; others are much harder.
Cancer of course is not a choice any of us make. It shows up on one’s door step, the unwelcomed guest. Cancer is company that just won’t leave and always over stays it’s welcome. It shakes the world of not only its chosen host but everyone around them. Sending a rippling effect into the community and leaves everyone asking questions like why me? Him? Her? What can I do? How do I support? How will I ever make all these choices in front of me?
This was the case for me when my life took the unwanted detour. It was Dec 2001. I was 26 and busy climbing the corporate ladder while completing my degree. I thought I had all the time to find myself and figure out those childhood thoughts of marriage and motherhood. But I was wrong. My world came to a screeching halt with my diagnosis of cervical cancer. I was stunned! How could I have cancer? Me?
You see, a few weeks earlier, I had gone in for my annual Pap, just like I had for the last ten years. But this time the doctor performed the, then new HPV test. My Pap came back normal but I tested positive for high-risk HPV. My doctor called me in for a series of more tests and procedures. I didn’t understand the need, because like most women, I believed a normal Pap Test meant everything was fine, that I was fine. But I wasn’t fine, I had Stage IB1 cancer.
I’ll never forget the words my doctor said, “I’m sorry you’ll have to have a radical hysterectomy which will result in infertility.” I refused. I didn’t have children, I wasn’t married and I’d only been dating my boyfriend for 6 months. My dreams were unraveling fast before my eyes.
Determined to fight, I kicked into Wonder Woman mode minus the hot outfit and all that spinning. I was dizzy enough from my cancer. I researched my options, got a second opinion and asked my doctor all the tough and uncomfortable questions. I learned about a new fertility sparing procedure, called the radical trachelectomy. I choose that option; at least it offered some hope.
When friends and loved ones asked how I was coping. I put on a strong front, pretending to be made of steel. When they offered help, I denied them.But just two years later, in April 2004 only days after my boyfriend proposed, my worse fear became a reality—my cancer was back. Suddenly I was hearing those words again, “You need a radical hysterectomy to save your life.” I yelled out, “Not now; this is supposed to be my fairy tale ending. I can’t have cancer again.”
Desperate to preserve my fertility, I sought out another opinion. My new doctor helped me find a reproductive endocrinologist and reluctantly agreed to give me eight weeks before my surgery. I started fertility treatment, harvested my eggs and froze 7 embryos. One week later, I got married barefoot on the beach in Jamaica. Ten days later, I was wheeled into surgery: a radical hysterectomy, partial vaginalectomy and lymph node dissection followed by 6 weeks of chemo and radiation.
I found myself at twenty-nine with a whole host of new conditions courtesy of my cancer treatments: menopause, sexual dysfunction, and radiation damage to both my bowels and hips. I had to face the reality; I would never be able to create life inside me. It was devastating both physically and emotionally, but I didn’t tell my loved ones initially. I pretended to be tough. I believed I needed to be strong for those around me. I feared they couldn’t handle me being sick or needy. I too, feared my own vulnerability.
Cancer often divides couples. It creates wedges between people and interrupts intimacy. I chose to attack this area head on. I spent my first few years of married life trying to piece my world back together with the help of my loving husband and my new perspective on life and relationships. Cancer changed my life forever, but it made me better. I emerged a stronger, more direct person, who for the first time in my life, I was comfortable being emotionally exposed and vulnerable.
Today, I am not only blessed for having battled and survived cancer but I am a better version of me. I see how all those choices made in the midst of my battle have shaped my world, a world I would not have known had cancer not touched my life. I have beautiful little girl who’s almost three years old, Riley Grier (born via gestational carrier), a loving husband and a voice I finally know how to use.