How my story begins: I had been going to Planned Parenthood for preventive visits since I was about fourteen years old. In 2014, I delayed my visit by a month or so because I was experiencing some abnormal bleeding. I didn’t think anything of it because I’m no stranger to off-cycle bleeding. Nevertheless, I made sure to keep my appointment regardless of bleeding or not.
For the first time, I received abnormal test results back. Again, I wasn’t as concerned because most of my friends have had something like this happen and they turned out fine. The clinic scheduled me for a colposcopy. They tried their best to attain biopsies, but I was hemorrhaging and in such excruciating pain. This was not typical by the looks on their faces. They decided to stop the appointment and they referred me to a gynecologic oncologist. I didn’t connect the dots as to what that would mean for me.
On February 4, 2015, I went to my gynecologic oncology appointment by myself. I was twenty-four. What could possibly be wrong?! After a pelvic exam and an in-office biopsy, the oncologist asked me to meet him and his Physician Assistant in the conference room. It was then that he flipped open a women’s health catalog, pointed to a teal-colored page, and said, “I’m sorry Miss Newman, but you have cervical cancer.”
I was your typical twenty-something who loved to go out and be social with her friends every weekend. I was going through a lot of transitions in my life like moving into my own studio apartment after living with my sister for a few years. I was finding my footing after being at my job as a dental assistant for a few years. I was in a new relationship with someone who seemed to match my interests and I was also in the early stages of going to therapy for the first time to address some anxiety and depression. I felt like things were really moving in the right direction.
After I attended therapy for several months, I decided to go back to school for social work because I wanted to do something more meaningful with my career. So, I started taking classes at the local community college to advance my career in social work.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was definitely in shock. I truly didn’t expect that I was going to be told something so serious, but I was wrong! I never went to another appointment alone after experiencing that. After the shock had worn off, I was extremely sad. I thought my life was essentially over at that moment. I didn’t know how to really handle everything, so I took a couple of days to sink in and process it. Then I switched gears and was ready to rid the cancer from my body.
My treatment: The first time I was diagnosed, I underwent five weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of external radiation, as well as 4 treatments of vaginal brachytherapy (internal radiation). I was considered in remission on August 10, 2015, but when I went back for a 3-month check-up, and they discovered spots in my lungs. I would need to go back for more testing which consisted of a couple of biopsies. The doctors had some difficulties obtaining a sample from the first CT needle-guided biopsy, so I had to go back for a second, this time it was an endoscopic biopsy. They concluded the spots to be the same cervical cancer cells.
I decided to seek a second opinion with a new provider who was located three and a half hours away, but I’m glad that I did because I don’t believe I would still be here today had I not. We decided on a regimen of cisplatin, paclitaxel, and bevacizumab. I went through many trials and tribulations receiving this chemotherapy every three weeks. My neutrophils got so low, that treatment was extended. I lost weight that I couldn’t afford to lose and all of my hair. After three treatments, I was scanned and they were NED, completely clean. I, unfortunately, had to go through three more treatments as a preventive measure, but the results of the next scan remained NED.
How I felt after treatment: It’s been a long road of recovery. I was frustrated with not gaining weight back right away. I was happy that I didn’t have to have any more treatments because of how sick they made me.
I finished treatments in August of 2016 and started my undergraduate program just two weeks later. Sitting at a desk for hours at a time was really hard on my body but I had an incredible instructor who understood what I was going through. She often checked on me to make sure I was okay.
One month after treatment ended, I had a five-day hospitalization. I thought I was having a bowel obstruction. The doctors concluded it was a colitis flare and that I would need to watch what I ate. It was a really scary and painful experience!
What was most difficult for me: Realizing the seriousness of the metastatic disease. I wasn’t ready to die. I had lost so many family members already to this kind of disease. There has always been and will more than likely always be a fear that the cancer is going to return.
Another thing that remains difficult for me is that I expected to go back to my old self as soon as cancer treatment was over, but what I didn’t realize is that the ramifications of cancer would be a lifelong process. I now deal with side effects that are not curable but manageable.
What I did to help myself: I allowed myself a couple of days of reflection after appointments which I think is crucial.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how incredible my support system was. I am forever grateful to those who took the time to talk with me, send me cards, bring me food, and help clean my apartment when I needed it the most.
Throughout my whole treatment, I wanted to do something more - to share my story, and to advocate so others didn’t have to go through this horrible experience. I made little teal ribbons which eventually were teal and white ribbons, to be more accurate and handed them out everywhere I went. I wanted everyone to know that cervical cancer existed because inside I felt all alone.
Another thing I did to help myself, if I felt pent-up emotions, would be to write in my journal. Creative outlets were by far a benefit!
Where I am today: Heading into 2024, I am going on eight years with no evidence of disease and I now work for the organization that gave me my voice after cancer. I continue to share my story and volunteer for various organizations.
What I want other women to know: Please know that you are never alone, and cervical cancer is NOT your fault!
Another thing I've come to realize since getting involved in patient advocacy is that the mission is greater than just my own personal story. Our stories are powerful, but they are so much more as a collective voice. We need you to share your story too. It truly makes a difference!
How I will try to help others: I’m grateful for my job with Cervivor - to understand the work that is being done behind the scenes, to be able to sit on various advisory boards and research teams, to maintain and develop our programming, to support others impacted by cervical cancer, and to meet our partners and to hear their passion in the work that they do. It is all truly rewarding. Every time I am connected with someone in our community, every time I am connected to a family or friend honoring their loved one who has passed from cervical cancer, every time I see those statistics of diagnoses and cervical cancer disparities, I am reminded of just how important this work is. It keeps me humbled yet motivated for the next thing.
Morgan's full story can be found on the Cervivor website at: https://cervivor.org/stories/morgan/