I Never Stopped Believing

 Post written by Cervical Cancer Survivor Dulcely Tavarez


My name is Dulcely.  I'm 23 years old and I am a cervical cancer survivor. 

Looking back at my journey - it really felt long, and very exhausting, but I'm happy to say that I conquered cancer.  

At first I was dealing with my diagnosis on my own. I didn't tell my partner, nor my family.  I was having a hard time dealing with it, and I could only imagine how much it would hurt them if  I told them about my cancer.  Ultimately I decided to tell them and the support and love they gave me was incredible - they never left my side.


My Diagnosis

My story started on June of 2014, I had a Pap smear that revealed some abnormality, but all the doctor did was give me the HPV vaccine, and said that they would monitor it, and check back in a year. In April of  2015,  I was discharging every day, I would get my monthly period, and afterwards I would still discharge blood. When I had intercourse I would bleed even more. 

I went to my primary care doctor and they had me go in for a transvaginal exam, when the results came back they said I was bleeding because I had a cyst.  I wasn't too convinced and in June of 2015 I went to a gynecologist and I brought up my concerns.  As soon as he examined me he saw a lesion. The GYN conducted a biopsy and called me back with the results about two days later. 

Unfortunately the pathology came back revealing that I had cervical cancer and he referred me to a GYN-oncologist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, so I can get more information on my status, and decide what procedure or treatments I was going to need.

On July 1st, 2015 I went to my  first appointment at Columbia with my GYN-oncologist, he had my previous pathology results, but he conducted another biopsy for specifics. My results came back confirming the bad news, this time they told me the name and stage of my cancer.  I had squamous cell cervical cancer stage IB2.  Thank God we caught it at this stage, but it was big enough to be seen and hard enough for me to battle. 

Immediately I got set up for an MRI and a PET-CT Scan. I went in for both my exams and my doctor called me back and said they saw a couple of  lymph nodes that caught their attention because they were lit up. The doctors wanted me to have surgery to remove the lymph nodes and test them to make sure they had not spread elsewhere. 

Alternative Medicine


My Parents & Brother
My family come from the Dominican Republic.  In our culture we are great believers of home remedies, and in alternative medicine to treat different illnesses.  So before my surgery my parents sent me to the Dominican Republic in the hope that there was another alternative treatment to cure my cancer and avoid any kind of surgery.

I met with a nutritionist who was an advocate and believer in alternate treatments since he himself had changed his diet completely and survived cancer. He put me on a 21 day diet. I couldn't eat anything with salt or sugar. My diet included vegetables, fruit juices, and soups. This was so hard for me since I was not use to this kind of eating, but I was willing to do anything believing that this would lead me to a cancer free status.  I was so afraid of what was happening to me, and afraid of getting any kind of surgery.

Doctors had given several options depending on what my lymph nodes revealed.
Option # 1: Get a radical hysterectomy. 
Option # 2:  If the lymph nodes came out negative, I would get chemotherapy to reduce the tumor in size and then removing it without having to remove my uterus.

This was a big deal to me because I was 22 years old and I wanted to have my own children in the future.

Treatments

I came back from the Dominican Republic and doctors, family and friends strongly recommended on having the surgery as the best option to beat the cancer.  On August 25, 2015, I got my Lymphadenectomy to remove my lymph nodes.

Luckily the pathologist tested the lymph nodes and they were negative, meaning the cancer had not spread elsewhere.  Now the doctors came up with a plan -- I was going to get 3-4 chemotherapy sessions, each of them 3 weeks apart. After that they were going to do an MRI and a vaginal exam to make sure the tumor was small enough to go with option  #2. 

Getting my Chemo
I went through chemotherapy which was extremely hard. After each treatment I felt weak, my bones hurt and at time I used to faint. There was nothing we can do, but to let about a week go by for me  to feel better.

Finally after my 3rd chemo treatment, I was excited to go back to the doctor to see if the tumor had shrunk.  I got my vaginal exam and my doctor said it had gotten smaller, but not enough for surgery. I was heartbroken because I felt like my odds to have my own kids were diminishing. 

My doctor decided to give me one more chemo treatment to see if the tumor will shrink enough to have the surgery to remove it.  If  that did not work the option was to give me radiation treatments and do a radical hysterectomy. 

There it was!!  the option and the words I dreaded to hear - a radical hysterectomy.  I cried so much, but I believe in God and I believe that whatever my destiny was - it was going to happen.  I got my fourth chemo treatment and my doctors were happy that the tumor was much smaller, but unfortunately not small enough to remove it.  The MRI results had showed that the tumor was too close to the uterus, so that was a concern in itself. 

So the decision was made, and I got scheduled for my surgery which was going to be either a radical hysterectomy or a trachelectomy depending on how far the tumor was from the uterus. 

December 11, 2015 I was ready for my surgery and I had prayed so much.  I ask God to grant me the opportunity to have my own baby or to give me the strength to accept it, if this was not going to be an option for me. 

I Believed

My doctors came in to see me before the surgery to go over everything and make sure I didn't have any other questions. My surgeon stated that after reviewing all the finals test - they had come to the conclusion that there was only a 2% chance that I would get a trachelectomy, so therefore they were leaning on performing a radical hysterectomy.  It didn't matter how small or big the percentage was for any of the outcome -- I had faith and believed that God would answer my prayers, and that everything was going to be OK.

Finally after waking up from surgery, I couldn't wait to know what had happened to me in the operating room. I was still under anesthesia, but I was able to listen to the doctors say that they didn't have to do a hysterectomy.  Yay!!! God is good and he answered my prayers.  I felt so blessed.  I was more than happy as well as my whole family.  I was so grateful to my surgeon, Dr. Burke and my GYN-oncologist, Dr. Buckley. The whole time during this process they were caring and sensitive to my needs and concerns.  They worked hard in planning the best way to accomplish the best results.




Dulcely Tavarez is 23 years old.  She has an Associate of Science in Criminal Justice.  Currently she works at a Home Care Agency as an intake coordinator.  She helps patients get the best home care service they deserve.

Dulcely has many goals to reach, one of them is to one day become a Mom.  She also wants to become an advocate of this disease. Share her story to help other women understand that this disease does not discriminate, and that it is necessary for them to always have their annual woman wellness exam. 






 Editor's Note:  I am a member of the NY Presbyterian Hospital Woman to Woman Program.  A program where survivors mentor newly diagnosed gynecologic cancer patients.  Dulcely was referred to me through this program.  We connected right away, and I was able to offer her support and encouragement through out her journey.  I am so very happy of her outcome, and wish her all the very best in all her future endeavors. God Bless.....


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