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Cervical Cancer

Understanding Cervical Cancer from a Personal Perspective

You don’t know what you got till it’s gone; you don’t appreciate it until it happens to you … blah, blah, blah. Such are the clichés and sentiments of those of us who get into a major accident and the insurance company of the offending driver, the drunk who slammed into you, refuses full retribution.

My friend has a cervical cancer

Those are the tunes played by those of us who lose a partner or spouse to another because we were too demanding, too difficult, too different. And those are the hackneyed statements, the only trite and obvious things we can come up with to utter when we find out our best friend of twenty-nine years has a unique form of cervical cancer that might allow her to live, oh, another year at most.

Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
Chemotherapy is still a prime treatment for cancer, which works as a poison to the cells.
(Image by Pixabay.com)

Yes, my friend has cervical cancer, what is less familiarly known as invasive endometrial adenocarcinoma. You understand “invasive” and from human sexuality class way back you get the “endometrial” part. But what you cannot seem to wrap your brain around is carcinoma…cancer. She is your age, which, last time you knew, was NOT old, was not dying time. But the condition she is in is that of what 5% of all other cervical cancer patients have survived. The other 95% had lesser complications: the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes, which are very soft, very fleshy, very vulnerable to a corrosive agent chomping its way through human tissue.

Cervical Cancer Statistics

If you are smart or have a strong stomach, you do a search for the causes, effects, symptoms, treatments, outcomes, support groups, and residual fallout of cervical cancer. You might find statistics: 500,000 cases worldwide; 300,000 die. 10,370 in US will be diagnosed with it; 3,710 will die. Mortality rates have declined by 50% over the last three decades.

Cervical Cancer Treatments

Treatment includes cryogenics—freezing of the dysplasia, which is the culprit in its earliest stages (which was in your best friend when she was 20). Treatment might be preceded by a colposcopy—the use of a special scope (with a 40X magnifying power) that allows for examination of the cervix. It might mean laser surgery—wherein the offending growth (also called metastasis) is burned off/out. Treatment might include early conization—meaning a biopsy is done by taking a cone of the cervical canal. It might also require or point to the need for radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy, depending upon the severity, urgency, and choices the cervical cancer patient makes.

HPV Vaccine

In 2006 the world's first cancer vaccine was trialled in Australia. It had been found that cervical cancer is caused by HPV - the human papilloma virus. This virus lives on the skin, in particular around the mouth and genital areas. That's how it's passed on, via skin to skin contact and during sex.

During the past 10 years the HPV vaccine has halved the numbers of new cervical cancers, having been administered in 130 countries. This vaccine also protects against the mouth and the throat cancers, both in men and women.

Cervical Cancer Stages

Cervical cancer works its way in stages, or exists in areas that are measured in stages: in stage I, the cancer invades the cervix beneath the top layer of cells. In stage II, the cancer extends beyond the cervix into nearby tissues, to the upper part of the vagina, and/or to the pelvic wall. In stage III, the cancer extends to the lower part of the vagina, and may be spreading into the pelvic wall and nearby lymph nodes. And in stage IV, the cancer has extended to the least protected or defensible parts of the body—the bladder, rectum, and/or other organs and parts of the body.

My friend has been found to have stage III cervical cancer, which may have reached the lymph nodes in the lungs. If this is the case, which we will know in six days, when the latest tests come back to her brilliant staff of oncologists and specialists. In some respects, she is lucky. She has been a health care provider to the elderly (as she is a clinical nurse specialist in the top of her field) for twenty years. So she will have that Florence Nightingale Clara Barton karma returned tenfold.

At the same time, the numbers are not good for her stage of cervical cancel, despite what I think is a shockingly young age—45. In other respects, then, she aint so “lucky” and I am reeling from the surreality of our friendship coming to an end in the corporeal sense after we have been through so much worse it seemed at the time, and after we have used survival humor through it all. What else can you do?

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