Marla

marlaName: Marla

Age: 22

Hometown: Toronto, ON

What was your diagnosis? Cervical cancer

What school do you attend? University of Toronto

What are your career goals? 
I am doing a double major in New Media and Studio, and I don’t know the exact career I am heading for, but I do know I enjoy web design and development. I still have a year before I graduate to learn, get experience, and figure out what I will do.

What is your occupation? 
Full-time student

 

Your cancer experience:

How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis? 
The exact date I found out I had cervical cancer was May 29, 2013, however I had been seeing a gynecologist for about a year and half prior with a completely different diagnosis in my mind.

I guess the story really started about two and a half years before my diagnosis when I started noticing some bleeding and pain. It took me several months before I went to my family doctor to see why I was having these symptoms (I thought they would go away but they just got worse). They did a few exams and an ultrasound and told me it was probably a cervical polyp, which is a harmless growth that can be easily removed, and so I was referred to the gynecologist, six months later.

That appointment was about 10 minutes long and the results came back inconclusive, so I was booked for another one—again, six months later. You can see why my diagnosis took over a year, and throughout this time I was still having the annoying and painful symptoms. The pap was abnormal, so I had a biopsy, and finally the results.

What was your age at the time? 
I had just turned 21.

In which hospitals were you treated? 
Mainly Princess Margaret Hospital, but I also spent some time at Sunnybrook and Toronto General Hospital.

At what level of education were you at diagnosis? 
I was finished my third year at university, and taking an extra college certificate program during the summer.

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed? 
I hadn’t let myself think the worst when I was going through the two years of unknown because it was just such an unlikely scenario. When she said the words I was shocked. I didn’t think much about the cancer but more about how I was going to tell my mother and boyfriend.

How did your family react? 
I called my boyfriend a few minutes after my appointment. I can’t remember exactly what either of us said except I said I had to hang up to call my mom. I called her at work (she works at Toronto General Hospital across the street from where I was) and I went to meet her. That was the first time I had ever seen her almost cry. I asked her not to tell my brother or anyone about it yet.

How did your friends react?
I did not tell anyone the first few weeks I was going through appointments except my boyfriend and mother. My mom told her close friends and eventually my brother. I wanted it kept top secret. I went to my summer classes as usual and talked to my class friends like nothing was wrong. When my treatment plan was finally chosen, I told my best friend.

“It’s not serious, I don’t want you to worry” I said. I definitely downplayed everything so no one would worry. A few months after my surgery when life had gone back to “normal” I told one other friend, and a little while later, another. They were nothing but supportive and understanding, and treated me no different.

What did your treatment consist of? 
The first surgery I had was a LEEP (cone biopsy) which would tell them more about the cancer and how large it was. My oncologist gave me a few possible outcomes, most of which would kill most or all of my reproductive system. There was one full fertility saving option, but it could only be done under specific circumstances. The surgery is called a radical trachelectomy, and it would leave enough to be able to carry a baby one day. They did a few scans and they believed I would be able to have it, but they would have to test my lymph nodes while I was in surgery. Thankfully, the lymph nodes were negative and I needed no further treatment.

While I was going through everything I was definitely in a strange state. I don’t think I fully absorbed the facts as I was hearing them. I went to my appointments and did what had to be done. The emotional feelings and thoughts came much later.

What is your current medical status? 
I just had my second four-month pap, and it was normal!

How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
After my surgery, I physically recovered the rest of the summer and then went back to school ready to pretend like nothing had happened. I did well in my classes and went back to my part time job. But like I said earlier, the emotions came much later and I found myself thinking about everything I went through and even what I could have gone through but didn’t. I hadn’t told many people about it so I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone.

That is when I found YACC and went to my first Localife event, and I signed up for Retreat Yourself Ontario, which I just returned from. It felt so good to finally let it all out because I think I was like a swelling balloon of emotions and I would have definitely broke at some point if I hadn’t let myself just talk and feel and cry.

I have also let out my secret. I recently wrote a Facebook status telling everyone that I am a cancer survivor. It made me feel free, and made me realize I have nothing to hide or be ashamed of.

What is the toughest part of your challenge? 
There are a couple things.

Physically: The paps and internal exams. They are an unavoidable part of gynaecological cancer, but I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had them, and they do NOT get easier with time, at least for me.

Emotionally: Just allowing myself to open up both to myself by allowing myself to really think and feel, and to others by letting them in and telling them what I went through.

What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? Have they changed since before your diagnosis? 
My feelings about it are still confusion. Most cervical cancers are caused by HPV which I do not have, and the type of cancer I had is mostly found in women born before the 70s, which I was not. It was a very rare case and it is just confusing to me. I’m pretty sure I will never have an answer so I do not wonder about it too much, but it is baffling. It does make me wonder what else my body could harbour. I try to not freak out about every little thing that seems wrong with my body, but now that I’ve gone through this experience I know I will be more proactive about getting things checked out and being in tune with my body.

What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
For me, I waited probably more than six months before I went to my family doctor with my symptoms. I told myself they would go away on their own, and when they got worse I wrote off even more excuses. If something doesn’t seem normal, just get it checked out. You know your body, and you’re the one who lives in it.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? 
I found YACC on a random Google search about stigmatized cancers and found a blog post on the website. I looked around and saw all the programs they offer, especially the ones in Toronto that were accessible to me. I went to my first Localife event, which was at a comedy club, and I talked to amazing people and had a great time.

I then went to Retreat Yourself Ontario this April 2014, and it was simply the best experience. I was able to let out everything I was feeling and thinking, and like I said earlier it was just a well-needed release. Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t be writing this bio had I not gone. Going gave me the bravery to share my story and not be scared or ashamed, or whatever it was that held me back before.

Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges?
Of course.