Guest Blog: My Journey with Cervical Cancer
By Caroline Koller, Brand Communications Manager at HealthyWomen
The work nonprofits do is nothing short of imperative, especially nonprofits that meet their audience where they’re at. I can attest to this personally. I was 26 and had recently finished extensive radiation and chemotherapy for advanced cervical cancer. Desperate to connect with others in my unique position, I began searching the web. I remember typing in “young woman’s cervical cancer story” and a HealthyWomen article popped up. It was a first-person article about a young woman who went through almost exactly what I did. She also battled to find a diagnosis, was diagnosed after the cancer had reached stage 3 and experienced the same complex emotions I was currently feeling. I cried my eyes out reading it and also felt an immense sense of relief and comradery. HealthyWomen met me exactly where I was with the resources I needed. It was healing.
From there, I was a true fan of the brand — so much so, I joined the HealthyWomen team and now work in their communications department. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and I’m thankful to be able to share my story in hopes of helping other women.
For six months, I spent nights lying on the floor with my legs propped up against the wall, which was the only position that seemed to give me some relief from the constant stabbing sensation radiating between my back and lower rectum. I had been living with pain and unexplained bleeding that was particularly heavy in the mornings and worsened during sex. It was hard to conceptualize living with symptoms like these every day. I was a vibrant woman with a jam-packed social life less than a year ago… Now I was isolating myself because I didn’t want to be a bother, complaining of my pain. During this time, I became a frequent Googler. I was always Googling my symptoms, mainly focused on trying to find forum-based, first-person articles of people who had experienced what I was experiencing. Reading real women’s stories was what I needed, what I was searching for. Once I read their stories, then I would turn to scientific resources. But what I was craving was just hearing I was not alone…
After months of symptoms, I was diagnosed with stage 3C cervical cancer and immediately rushed into the flurry of what it’s like to try and beat this disease. During that process, I wanted all the information I could get, which isn’t how everyone is. I learned that some women want to only know the positives and some women, like myself, want to hear the good, bad, and ugly so that they can form a narrative on their own. This taught me that organizations that are there to help in these moments need to deeply understand the patient journey and the heaviness of information. They need to have a diverse range of materials that can cater to women at different stages of their journeys. For me, the information was validating, and I appreciated the nonprofits and organizations that made me feel this way.
One night, in my NYC apartment, sitting on my bed after my first few days of being alone for the first time since entering treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, I found the HealthyWomen article that was exactly what I needed to read at that exact time. I remember sending it to my family, friends, and partner, explaining that this article would explain to them exactly how I was feeling — what it was like to go through what I was going through — and give them more context into what was going on in my head.
After entering remission, I became a fierce advocate for women’s health. Working with HealthyWomen feels important because I know first-hand that the work that we’re doing is incredibly meaningful and there are women out there who need exactly what we’re creating. I try to keep that patient perspective top of mind with any project I work on. I encourage all the members and organizations of the National Health Council to do the same. What you’re doing is making a difference.