Two years ago, in the middle of a coastal Maine summer, Stephanie Ferrie was training for a triathlon. An avid runner, she chalked up the slight changes in her body, including unusual discharge, as merely hormonal. Summer turned to fall and her symptoms persisted. As the whispers of her body grew louder, she finally made an appointment with her OB-GYN. A mother of four, Stephanie never had an abnormal pap smear or tested positive for HPV. “My doctor put the speculum in and saw a mass on my cervix, 3 centimeters, right there,” said Stephanie.
The biopsy revealed cervical cancer caused by HPV. Fortunately, the resulting PET scan showed the tumor was only in her cervix. The choice now turned to the course of treatment. Guided by a close friend who faced similar choices many years ago, Stephanie made the decision for a radical hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix). The final pathology showed early metastasis to a lymph node in her groin, which resulted in an additional five low-dose chemotherapy sessions and 28 rounds of radiation. “[My friend] made me feel so good about it that I wasn’t even scared. Plus, my cervix was a pain with four kids anyway!” she joked.
The crisp fall air turned to the darkening days of winter and six weeks of treatment for cervical cancer. “It was all very surreal,” said Stephanie. After the hysterectomy, chemotherapy followed to desensitize cells in preparation for radiation. “Tuesdays were four hours of uninterrupted girlfriend time,” Stephanie reflected. “Every week [of chemotherapy] was just for me.”
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Michele Baldwin lost her life to cervical cancer. Before her death, she traveled to India to spread the word about the power of prevention. Filmmakers chronicled her last few months of life to bring the message of hope to men and women across the world. Cervical and certain head and neck cancers are preventable with HPV vaccinations and screening. Take 15 minutes to watch the powerful documentary below.
For the month of June, Maine Cancer Foundation is discussing human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. Did you know screening tests can find abnormal cells before they turn into cancer? Check out the fun and simple infographic below from our friends at the CDC.