My name is Tracy Jimenez, I am 47 years old and I currently live in Colorado. I am telling my story about cervical cancer to help inform and educate women because there was so much I did not know until I was diagnosed. I learned a lot through this journey, and a lot of what I have to share is about prevention that may help others.
Looking back, I recall seeing a television commercial years ago talking about HPV vaccination, and the role Human Papillomavirus (HPV) plays as the cause of cervical cancer. At the time, however, I did not connect HPV with cervical cancer screening or the Pap test because I had never heard of either before while growing up in the 70's. Furthermore, as a mom of 3 young active children with on and off medical insurance, I was always busy and had no time or money for a gynecological exam when all seemed well.
I never ever thought Cancer could happen to me. Now, 2+ years later, having faced the ordeal of a cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment process including radiation, chemotherapy and more, I am ready to tell my story, so that my experience may help keep this from happening to anyone else.
Cervical cancer is nearly completely preventable and the best time to take action is before disease ever develops, through vaccination and regular screening. The more traditional Pap screening test looks for abnormal changes in cells collected from the surface of a woman’s cervix and can miss disease. Newer technologies use the same type of cervical sample collected but instead look for the presence of DNA from the HPV virus.
A positive HPV test can identify if a woman is at risk and helps catch problems before they develop. What’s reassuring is that a negative HPV result means you can trust you are at low risk of developing cervical cancer until your next, routine screening exam.
HPV infection often shows no symptoms, and women like me along with their partners are often not even aware they have it. Most times the body’s immune system will clear the virus, but sometimes an HPV infection will persist, and can develop into cancer.
There are many types of HPV (not all cause cervical cancer, some are responsible for genital warts for example), and two of them – HPV 16 and HPV 18 – are the highest risk types that cause close to 70% of cervical cancers. It is helpful to know if you have one of these if your HPV test is positive, as your care might be different based on this information.
For me, it took multiple trips to the emergency room with symptoms of back and leg pain, and a urinary scare before my cervix was examined, and a large 8 cm size cancer tumor was found. That was in November 2016.
Given the advanced stage and obvious signs, my doctors recommended treatment and I powered through six months of treatment because there was no way I was giving up. My family stood by my side every day because there was no way we were saying good bye. My partner of close to 7 years was with me throughout everything, and I am so grateful for his support. He took off work to take care of me on the days I needed it, and I cannot express enough my gratitude.
Today, I am cancer-free, and celebrating life along with 5 grandsons in the mix. I am grateful to be here and have learned so much through this ordeal, especially now that I know how to better protect my own grandchildren as well as future generations who should never need to die or suffer needlessly from the ordeal of cervical cancer like I did.
If your life has been touched by cervical cancer in some way, we want to hear it from you. Your personal story can help us inspire others to get tested for cervical cancer or cope with the cervical cancer diagnosis.