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Cervical cancer: One woman's story

Jessica Watson is a mom to five, four in her arms and one in her heart. She lives in Michigan where her life is as unpredictable as the weather. After the loss of her infant daughter in 2007, Jessica left the corporate world behind, vowe...

The journey through cancer and back

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. Roughly 12,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year alone. Here's one woman's story of survival and what she wants others to know about the disease.

Pap smear

This January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. Although cervical cancer is discussed much less frequently than other types of cancers, it is just as dangerous and affects thousands of women each year. SheKnows was fortunate enough to talk with one cancer survivor who offered to share her brave journey through diagnosis, treatment and, finally, a clean bill of health.

Mandy (whose name has been changed for privacy) was 29 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She had undergone yearly pap smears for years, then signed up for a research study using a new way to look at cells in 2008, when she was uninsured. "I was making jokes that everyone should get paid to get their pap done! I thought nothing of it. After a couple of weeks, I was blown away when I received the phone call." A nurse called her at home and then quickly put her on hold. "It was the day before my grandmother's funeral, my whole family was in the house and I was on hold, unsure if I had cancer. A doctor got on the phone and informed me that I did indeed have stage 3 cervical cancer."

Soon after that phone call she began treatment. "I had a LEEP procedure that scraped away part of my cervix and removed the cancer." This procedure is generally an outpatient treatment, and Mandy was able to return to daily life after a few days of rest, with moderate lifting restrictions.

Now Mandy is a healthy mom to three boys. "When I was pregnant, I tested positive again for human papilloma virus (HPV), and was quite scared, to be honest. I didn't tell anyone except my husband because it's embarrassing. It's not my fault and it is still embarrassing. I've had cancer, but I don't want to speak of it, because it's that cancer I got from an STD.

"I'm an informed woman who always used protection, got tested with my partners, had a pap every year and still got HPV which led to cancer. I'm grateful I'm married now and don't have to worry about the big scary sexual world out there any longer, and my last pap came up clear."

She says that if she ever has a girl, she will "open lines of communication as early as possible. I feel grateful to speak out in this realm, and happy to lay my story to rest as I move forward with a fully healthy body and a blessedly healthy reproduction system!"

Going forward, Mandy would tell other women "being informed is helpful but won't necessarily keep you safe. Be mindful of your sexual partners, but know that 'protection' does not protect against HPV." She also recommends that if you are sexually active, you get a pap smear every year rather than every three to five years, as some doctors are now recommending. The sooner problems are detected the more options you have for treatment and the better your chances are for a happy, healthy future just like Mandy.

More on cervical cancer

How to protect yourself from cervical cancer
What you need to know about Gardasil, HPV and cervical cancer
Can you get HPV from oral sex?

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