My name is Samantha Wiles and I am 47 years old, married, and a mother to three children. In November 2017, I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Cervical Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma). The path to my discovery was slightly different than normal. I have always had extremely painful menstrual cycles and tended to be a heavy bleeder. However, in September 2017, I bled for 27 days and actually went into the ER. The hospital did not have an on-call OB/GYN and told me that I needed to schedule with an OB/GYN.
Although I had been very good about getting yearly exams when I was younger, I admit that I had not been diligent and had not gone for six years. I was able to get in for an appointment in October. They did a vaginal ultrasound and internal exam. Due to my complaints and age, the normal course was to do a uterine biopsy, but they were unable to open my cervix for the biopsy. At that time, my doctor also stated that there were growths on my cervix, but her words were “I am not concerned about cancer due to the color and they don’t bleed when I touch them.” After discussing my options, we agreed to move forward with a hysterectomy.
After multiple bumps, my hysterectomy was scheduled for November 18, 2017. The plan was to do a Laparoscopic Hysterectomy. On the day of the surgery, my doctor had several issues and she had to do an open hysterectomy and was unable to remove all of my cervix, as it had been fused to my rectum. The day after the surgery, she expressed to me that my anatomy was extremely odd. Even at this time, cancer was never suspected. After two days in the hospital, I was able to go home and begin recovery from my major surgery.
On November 27, 2017, my phone rang. The lady on the other line was calling to confirm my appointment with a doctor that I had never heard of. When she realized I had no idea what this was about, she advised me to contact my doctor’s office. While waiting for my doctor to call back, I googled the name of the doctor and what came up was Norton Cancer Institute. The hour and a half that it took to hear back from my original doctor felt like an eternity. When she called me back, it was with the news that the pathology report from my surgery indicated Squamous Cell Carcinoma and they were unclear if it was in my uterus or cervix. I was scheduled with the OB/GYN oncologist two days later.
It’s funny how your mind works; my very first phone call after receiving this shattering news was to call my job (I only work part-time) and offer my resignation. I had no idea what was in store for me and of course, I couldn’t help but expect the worse. So, in my mind, I wanted to give my job an opportunity to replace me instead of waiting. The next several hours were spent crying and texting family and friends with the news. I have a son that is in high school and two adult daughters and I must admit, those were the most difficult people to share the news with.
The next month was spent determining a treatment plan. That included meeting with my “team”, which not only included my OB/GYN but also a Radiation Oncologist. Both had to conduct their own exams, as well as wait for the results of the PET scan. The PET showed Stage 2B Cervical Cancer with minimal lymph node involvement in the pelvic area. After all the results were back, it was decided to move forward with five rounds of chemotherapy (Cisplastin), 25 rounds of radiation, and an additional five rounds of stereotactic radiation – a much higher and more concentrated form of radiation. Normally, cervical cancer patients have internal radiation, also called Brachytherapy, but due to the fact that I had had a hysterectomy, that was not an option. To put this in perspective, a “normal” dose of chemo is 180 Fx(cGy) and the stereotactic dose is 550 Fx(cGy).
On December 27, 2017, I began my treatments. In the beginning, I was terrified of chemo, however by the time I was finished, I discovered that the radiation was much more difficult. Chemo was one time a week and they pumped you so full of steroids and anti-nausea meds that I typically felt great for the first couple of days, and usually by day 3 or 4 I would be nauseous, that for the most part, could be controlled by medications. Radiation, on the other hand, was five days a week and it was cumulative. By week 3, I was exhausted, and I don’t mean tired. I mean that every part of me was drained that no sleep could help. Treatment was definitely no cakewalk. I suffered from multiple side effects – incontinence, thrush, nausea, significant pain in my hips, back, and pelvis. Through it all, I did what I could to stay strong and kept telling myself that this was temporary and did my best to reassure my children, family, and friends. But I would certainly be lying if I didn’t admit that in the still of the night, I would sometimes just cry and feel sorry for myself. On February 19, 2018, I completed my final treatment and it definitely was worth celebrating. Then it was time to wait to find out if the treatment worked.
My repeat PET was performed in April 2018 and I received the call on May 7, 2018, that I was NED (no evidence of disease). It was amazing news to hear and even better since that was my mom’s birthday (who had passed away from lung cancer 12 years before). I went in for my follow up appointment and on one hand, I was happy that my cancer was gone. However, I also was still in so much pain on a daily basis that I was terrified that I would never be “normal” again. After discussing everything with my doctor, it was decided that we would move forward with some scans in order to make sure that there wasn’t something else going on, in addition to seeing a urologist. The urologist felt after multiple tests, that the radiation caused damage to my bladder. The scans showed the pelvis had some swelling (again due to the radiation) and the lumbar indicated that I have a herniated disc compressing nerves. Since the “all-clear”, I had pre-cancerous cells show up and had to be treated. So, although I am now cancer free, I have to always remain diligent. I continue to work on the damage (physically and emotionally) that treatment caused so that I can fully enjoy life with my loved ones.
One of the biggest things that has helped me so far in my journey is to work with OAK and feel like I am contributing to a cause that is dear to my heart.