The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done! by Laresa Cervantes

I was diagnosed with stage 3c cervical cancer at the age of 37. A diagnosis that drastically changed my life and was devastating no doubt. After about six months or so of symptoms such as bleeding, painful cramps, what felt like peeing myself constantly, back problems, a swollen right leg, etc., I decided to schedule an appointment with my gynecologist to see what was going on. I had had my last appointment two years prior. I had never had an abnormal Pap, or any significant problems regarding my cycle. I thought perhaps my period and PMS was worsening or I was going into perimenopause. What did I know? After extensive testing, it was determined I had endometriosis as well as a positive Pap for abnormal cells. I was then referred to an oncologist here in Oklahoma at the Stephenson Cancer Center. She determined that I did have stage 3c cervical cancer. I was terrified. Terrified and clueless as to what was ahead. I went from healthy to full-blown advanced disease in two years.

My oncologist suggested I begin a 56-day treatment plan which consisted of radiation five days a week and chemotherapy (Cisplatin) once a week, as well as five sessions of brachytherapy. At first, I was confident that I could overcome my diagnosis. I was told I wouldn’t lose my hair. I had minimal side effects from the chemo in the beginning. Radiation was proving to be a challenge. With each treatment, my skin started getting more tender and what felt like a constant sunburn plagued my groin area. It was at this time that intimacy with my husband started to slow down. I am lucky and have a husband who is understanding and willing to give up everything to ensure I got healthy. We also had many open conversations about how I was feeling and what my body was going through. Sex became impossible. Around the end of the first half of treatment, I started breaking down. With more visible side effects, it became more real. I have cancer. Emotionally I was starting to question my strength and I had no idea what was to come. Looking back, my initial treatment plan was relatively easy.

On July 5, 2022, after several months of a break, waiting for the radiation to leave my body, I had a PET and CT scan to see what the treatments had done. During my break, I went into menopause as the radiation had “shut down” my feminine organs. I was met with hot flashes and mood swings. All the wonderful things women experience when going through “the change”. Unfortunately, I was delivered the most devastating news yet. The treatment was successful in eliminating the cancer in my cervix and lymph nodes, but unfortunately, it had now spread to my chest, my lungs, and surrounding lymph nodes. This meant I was now stage 4. The scan was lit up with dozens of tumors. It was then I broke down. I had been so confident that I had beaten cancer. It is a sneaky and unrelenting disease! I called my family, and my husband and I broke the news. I was told that the doctors were only going to be able to prolong my life a couple of years if that. Total devastation. My oncologist had developed another treatment plan which consisted of several different treatments every three weeks for the foreseeable future. I chose to get a port which I am now so thankful I did. It has made the treatments so much easier! A cocktail that was going to practically take me out. My first treatment went smoothly and after exactly two weeks, I began to lose my hair. As time passed and the treatment compiled in my body, I got sick. Truly and undeniably sick. My days were spent sleeping, so nauseated, throwing up, with intense diarrhea, pain swirling through my body constantly, and neuropathy in my hands and feet. I tried my best to walk as much as I could and eat when I could. January of this year (2023) proved to be the worst and hardest month of my life. I had completely stopped eating; I was constantly dry heaving despite the patches and numerous pills and medication for nausea. I had lost 70 lbs and all the hair on my body was gone. I was prescribed 80mg of omeprazole, a heartburn medication, which totally took me out. That dose was too high, and I ended up in the hospital for two weeks recovering from an omeprazole overdose. Turns out, too much can make you nauseous and have uncomfortable stomach issues. Once I was cleared of that drug in my body I felt better. Better but on a scale of things I was still in bad shape. By the end of May, I had my last treatment with Taxol. I knew that if I continued with the cocktail I was on, I would not make it. My last experience, the side effects, had me truly believing I was not going to wake up the next day. I was almost unable to get out of bed and go to the bathroom on my own, I could barely speak and had developed a stutter. My mind was so foggy and blurry. My reality became so distorted, was I even still alive? This was it; I had lost.

Cancer has changed me forever. Changed who I am and has affected me to my very core. I am now at a place where my scans are looking better, the tumors are disappearing. The treatment is working!! It is a miracle. No doubt. I have fought so very hard and lived through more pain and suffering than I ever thought possible for me to endure. I have a newfound respect for this body of mine. I spent years putting myself down and living with depression because I wasn’t thin enough or for whatever other reason. Never again will I disrespect my body like that! I know several people who did not make it out of this disease. Who fought just like I did. God chose me. Why I will never know, but I do know it means my purpose in this world is not complete. My goal now, besides healing, is to spread awareness and be there for other women who are going through the same thing. I had so little knowledge of cervical cancer before this as I’m sure is the case for many women. Without my supporters and community of friends, I don’t know where I would be!

Laresa Cervantes

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