Jan 1, 2024
Her Perspective

Lifesavers are not just candy, they can be people or stories like this one…

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Who knew? Surely not me, and I’m a cervical cancer survivor.

Yes, two months ago I had cancer and now I don’t. On Halloween, surgeons removed my cervix, uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes through my belly button — what a trick! Ouch, recovering was not a treat.

Don’t fear, most early-stage cervical cancer cases can be treated with minimally invasive procedures like a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). I had a LEEP and thought I was cancer free … until the surgeon called to tell me there were no clean margins. Every cancer case is different. I’m sure there is a fancy, sciencey Latin diagnosis that explains why my cancer was not the common, easily treatable type and thus required a hysterectomy, but suffice it to say — my cancer was tricky. You know what my favorite word in that run-on sentence is? WAS!! It is so much easier to talk about cancer in the past tense.

My cancer had no symptoms. Believe me, I traversed France, from Nice to Lyon, then hiked mountains in California all while I had cancer. I only went for a check-up because I had a bad dream.

My friend died and I ran into her sweet daughter in the produce section of Publix. I hugged her and cried. The obituary did not mention the cause of death, so I mustered up the nerve to ask. Cancer.

“It was preventable. A Pap test could have detected it,” she said tearfully.

That night I had a dream that still haunts me. It was my daughter in Publix speaking those same words. I was looking down from above and her brown eyes were filled with tears, her sadness unbearable. I woke up like a bolt of lightning jolted through me, shaking uncontrollably.

I tried to get an appointment with my gynecologist but after nine years I was not an established patient anymore. The wait for a new patient appointment was six months. Lucky for me, my primary care physician was able to do the test sooner. The results came back no bueno. A Pap test is also known as a Pap smear. I just hate the word smear.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, your mind wanders off to all kinds of strange places. Like, what did I do to cause this? Was it those plastic water bottles that I left in the hot car too long? Did I microwave food in plastic instead of glass one too many times? Was it those char-broiled burnt steaks? Too many Diet Cokes in my younger days? Probably not — sometimes, it’s just that your cells mutated abnormally.

My first instinct was to keep it private. Breast cancer survivors/warriors are cool. They have marches and tennis tournaments. Save the Tatas is sexy. But nobody wants to talk about cancer of the hoohaa.

I quickly got over myself. Talking about it could save lives. If undiagnosed and untreated, my survival rate would have been slim to none in about five years. My life was saved by a girl (named Grace!) who was brave enough to be real with me about the cause of her mother’s death. Her words shook me out of my complacency and doctor phobia, motivating me to get a cancer screening test. Her words saved my life. I want to pay it forward and be real with all of you: Don’t skip your annual Pap test or any recommended cancer screenings! Make those appointments even if you hate going to the doctor.

Unbeknownst to me, gynecologists aren’t just for delivering babies. Even if you feel great and have no symptoms, an annual checkup is a good idea.

Liz Biggs is a Pensacola native and mother of four. Once upon a time, she had a high-pressure career but now she has a pension and is a freelance writer for Bella Magazine. Liz enjoys music, dancing, tennis and travel and tries to find humor in everything.