“My Voice” by Lisa Januzzi Gaskin

Lisa Januzzi Gaskin - 'Survivor'

In July 2001, I was 34 years old, had been married 11 years and I got pregnant by accident.  I say “by accident” because we were “waiting to be financially secure”.  I now realize unless you hit the lottery you are never really financially secure!

So here I was, newly pregnant, planning my future and the future of my baby.  I went in for my OBGYN visit at the end of August, and they did blood work to make sure I was pregnant, and they did a Pap and all the other fun stuff they subject you to.  I didn’t have a care in the world.  I had no clue what HPV was let alone that my life was about to change.

A few days later the Dr. called and said she would like to see me.  I went in and we sat in her office and she told me my Pap came back abnormal (ASCUS) and that I needed another test but that a special doctor was needed who would do it on a pregnant woman due to the risk of miscarriage associated with it.  And she added “Oh and by the way you have an STD, its called HPV and 80% of women today are walking around with it.”  My jaw was on the floor and I was mortified beyond words.  Me?  An STD?  WHAT?

I left the office in shock.  I drove home trying to compose myself so that I could figure out how to tell my husband.  Mind you, I still had no idea I had cancer…

Mid-September my doctor called and gave me two doctor’s names who would perform the colposcopy (ah! it had a name now) on a pregnant woman.  I called the one that was closest to my home, left a message with his office and waited.  This scenario played itself out a few more times -me calling and leaving a message and getting no response.  Don’t forget, I am not in a rush because the word cancer has never been mentioned.  Finally, I give up trying to get in touch with him and I try the other doctor who is not near my house.  At this point it is mid November.  I get the first available appointment which is December 12, 2001.

The day arrives for the colposcopy and I am armed with the words my OBGYN said – “It is just a test to see your cervix, there won’t be a biopsy, you are fine, don’t worry.”  I walk in; fill out all the paperwork and listen repeatedly to the staff ask in amazement why I was there if my Pap only had ASCUS as the result, especially if I was pregnant.  Why take the risk just for ASCUS?  I must have heard that 6 times that morning.  By the time I got into the exam room I was trying to figure out why everyone was asking me over and over and laughing like “What is wrong with her OBGYN sending her here for ASCUS?”

The doctor came in with a nurse and explained the procedure, the after effects and what complications to watch for since I was pregnant.  She also joked that I shouldn’t be there just for ASCUS and since I looked like a deer in headlights that the nurse could stand by my shoulders and hold my hand to calm me down if that would help.  I said yes and the doctor began the colposcopy.  As soon as she got the speculum in and swabbed the acid solution around she looked at the nurse and said to both of us at the same time that she needed the nurse down with her.  I got a bit panicked.  The nurse went down with the doctor who asked her if she could see what she was looking at and the nurse said yes.  Next thing I know the doctor has done a biopsy.  I knew right then and there I had cancer.  The Dr. said the results would be back in a week.

The nurse and the doctor left the room and I got dressed and went out to my husband who was in the waiting room the whole time and I burst into tears.  I told him everything from start to finish making sure not to leave out the part of everyone being so surprised I was there only for ASCUS.

On December 26, 2001 I got “the” call while I was at work.  The Dr. said she needed us to come in that day.  I told her we couldn’t; my husband was traveling and wouldn’t be back for two days.  She said it was urgent.  I said “I have cancer don’t I?”  She said yes and told me she wants to see me as soon as possible.  I said “Just tell me if I am going to see my child get married.”  She said again that we needed to get in as soon as possible.  I told her we could get there in two days.

We went to see her she painted a horrible picture.  I have the rarer of the two kinds of cervical cancer you can have.  She wanted to deliver the baby at 28 weeks.  She told us we might lose the baby.  She said if she had done the test sooner she would have made me abort the pregnancy.  She goes on and on with all the horrible things and I tune out.  I remember my husband retelling it all later – delivery at 28 weeks, cone biopsy three weeks later, hysterectomy three weeks after that, three surgeries in a month and a half.  We thanked her very much for her time and we left.  We called EVERYONE we knew and we networked for a doctor for a second opinion.

We got the name of a guy from three people who didn’t know one another.  He is at Memorial Sloan Kettering.  We called.  It is amazing the way people move mountains for you when you tell them you are pregnant and you have cancer.  They saw us the next day.  The doctor could not have been nicer.  He examined me, did another colposcopy and asked if he could bring some people in because pregnant women with cervical cancer were so rare.  I told him he could bring in the entire hospital if he wanted to but he had to save me and my baby.  We had so many people in there at one point looking at me in all my glory, and my husband was on the other side of the curtain on a stool listening to it all.  I heard him suck in his breath when the doctor asked everyone around him if they could see the two tumors.  Apparently they were big enough to be seen without the colposcope.

So after his little show and tell, I got dressed and he let my husband come around the curtain.  He told us that as much as he would love to help us he couldn’t because they cannot deliver the baby there.  He did tell us however that his ex-colleague was the head of women’s oncology at New York University Medical Center.  He called him right then and there and got us an appointment the next day.

We went to the NYU guy who did ANOTHER colposcopy.  He told us that the pregnancy saved my life because the cancer is so far imbedded in my cervix that by the time they would have found it I would have been stage IV.  He explained that when you are pregnant your cervix opens like a flower and is the only reason my Pap came back abnormal and the only reason they can see the tumors with the naked eye.  He said he would try to get me to 34 weeks, and that the perinatolgist would do a c-section and then he would immediately follow with a radical hysterectomy.  He said since they can’t do any of the normal staging tests due to the pregnancy because the staging tests would most likely kill the baby that he could only do an MRI to try and see if any of my other organs or lymph nodes were affected.

The MRI came back not showing anything abnormal but he said there is no guarantee and that he would biopsy everything once he was in there during surgery.  He said he would make a decision about my ovaries on the spot while I was open on the table since I was only 34 years old.

I had an amnio right before my son is born to check lung viability.  My son grabbed the needle as it went into my stomach.  The doctor said she had never seen that before.  My husband watched and shook his head.  The amniotic fluid said his lungs could handle the birth and they kept me on a fetal monitor for 12 hours because I could miscarry from an amnio that late in my pregnancy.

March 13, 2002 – D-day or should I say C-day?  9:36 a.m. my beautiful, redheaded miracle baby was delivered by c-section followed by my radical hysterectomy.  I was awake for it all.  Five hours of surgery under an epidural only.  I  laughed, they cut, “I want to see my uterus” I said.  The doctor told me it was already at pathology.  I laughed some more.  “Can you do tummy tuck while you are down there?” I asked.  They laughed.  I said “ow, I feel like I have period cramps.”  They gave me more drugs.  I woke up in the recovery room still owning my ovaries.

I couldn’t see my son for three days.  He went into respiratory distress on the way to the nursery so he was taken to the NICU instead – so much for the amnio!

Fast forward nine days.  My son and I are home.  My mom was with us.  I was in the rocker breast feeding and the phone rang.  Mom answered it.  Biopsy results.  Vaginal margins clear.  Lymph nodes clear.  Cancer free.  No further treatment.  See you in a week.  I cried silent tears of joy and I shook.  Oprah calls it “the ugly cry”.  My mother told the nurse she needed to hang up because her grandson was now having a milkshake because I was crying and shaking so hard.

No chemo

No radiation


I am a survivor.