Dear Younger Self,
As Alanis put it, “isn’t it ironic?” Do you remember being around 14 or 15, arguing with your mom that you were never going to get the Gardasil vaccine? You were scared because you heard the rumors about how it hurt and somehow you just knew you were NEVER going to get that cancer.
Did you know that the Gardasil vaccine would have prevented you against strands 6, 11, 16, and 18. It didn’t mean much to you then but it sure does now. Strands 16 and 18 happen to be precancerous and cancerous cells while strands 6 and 11 are the only known cause for genital warts. Did you hear that they improved the Gardasil vaccine (now called Gardasil 9) to cover more known HPV strands?
You graduated college in 2011 as as dental assistant and went out into the work world. You got your first “big girl” job and stayed with it for 5 years. You started disliking it and found a new passion but, in order to succeed in this role you’d have to go back to school. You were 24 and were considered a nontraditional student.
Along with school, you started to go out and try new things. It was then you met and fell in love with a boy. You were on top of the world! Things were really starting to heat up but there was something kind of odd. Your annual Pap arrived and you were given results a few weeks later. Your first abnormal Pap, ever!
Back to Planned Parenthood you went. You had been going there since you were 14, remember? You’ve never had the best luck in the gyno department. Periods always seemed so bad, maybe this was just another symptom? You underwent a colposcopy to remove those dreaded precancerous cells. You weren’t as concerned going in because basically all of your friends had been through something similar and they were fine now. The pain you endured during that procedure was far more than unusual. Don’t you remember the look on the provider’s face? How could you forget it?
A referral was handed to you, gynecologic oncologist? You were definitely a busy bee between working full-time and school full-time. You managed to squeak by in your evening class (thankfully the instructor was so understanding). After that visit with the oncologist you found out you had cervical cancer. Yep, the ‘C’ word….shit.
Regardless of your situation, you remained focused and in the end, I think it saved you. You insisted on continuing a routine to remain as normal as possible. It worked! You excelled in school.
It happened again about a year later. Metastatic disease rocked your world. How in the hell did you end up with cancer, again? You were really hard on yourself, trust me. Once again, you took school as a distraction and used it to your benefit. You were accepted into the University of Iowa’s School of Social Work and you haven’t given up once.
If cancer taught you anything, my dear, it would be that you are unstoppable in anything you want to achieve. I’m thrilled to see how it has changed you for the good. How it makes you advocate for others. Because of school, you have had several opportunities presented to you. You handle anything life throws your way with grace and with ease.
Keep up the good work!