“My Voice” by Colleen Marlett

Colleen Marlett - 'Survivor'

My story of survival I believe started at the time of my birth.  Although I won’t take you down that long and winding road I will tell you it has been one hell of a journey.  I was adopted at birth by a wonderfully loving and nurturing family.  They are my family through and through.  However, there was always an empty spot in my soul with a question of where I came from.  At the age of 18 I found my biological mother.  I was not received well by her and was refused any answers to any questions, including medical history or who my biological father was.  I continued to search until I found more of my biological family and by the time I was 28 I knew of the maternal family history for female cancer that was quite prevalent.
The next year I gave birth to my second child and the thought of getting cancer like the women in my gene pool, had started to weigh heavy.  At 31, I went for my first mammogram.  What do you know…I had a tumor.  I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ.  Carcinoma was all I heard.  I was truly paralyzed.  I was informed that this type of cancer did not spread and was treated with a lumpectomy, possibly some radiation and tamoxifen for 5 years.  I was lucky!  Wasn’t I?   Could they tell me 100% it wouldn’t come back or spread?  I had two small children and a wonderful husband.  I couldn’t handle the thought.  I confided only in my mother.  I had the surgery telling everyone it was just a benign tumor and nothing to worry about.  It was an early diagnosis, so I had no radiation and started on my tamoxifen.  I kept my mouth shut and pretended it had never happened.  After a while I was living a semi-normal life again, talking to my mom every now and then about my fears and relaxing to her comforting words of wisdom, “everything will be OK”.  The next year my mother died from ovarian cancer.  We had almost no warning.  Two years later my biological mother died from breast cancer.  A year after that, my biological grandmother passed away and one biological aunt’s was fighting the last leg of her fight with breast cancer as well.  I had no one to tell.  I was screaming inside but trying to put my fears aside and live every day to the fullest.    I wanted to honor my mother’s memory by example so I decided to write a book.  Ironically enough, the book is about survival.  Not just survival of cancer,  (at the point I started to write the book I didn’t feel like a cancer survivor)  but a book about surviving life!

It can be rough to be so raw and honest to the world.  After each chapter the book would get set aside as I went on about my everyday life.  In October 2005 I wasn’t feeling very well.  I had my annual PAP and while I was there I expressed to my doctor that I wasn’t feeling myself.  My mammograms had been clear for several years now and there was nothing to suggest something was going on anywhere else.  My PAP came back clear and my doctor suggested that maybe I could alleviate some stress by cutting back on my work ( I owned a small business teaching time and lifestyle management and traveled to speaking engagements) .   Ten months later I woke up one morning and had a sinking feeling something was very wrong.  I had no symptoms other than fatigue and had started a discharge a week or so before that really was nothing.  I went to the doctor that day.  It was a Friday and by Monday the verdict was in;  I had cervical cancer.  The question now became what type of cervical cancer did I have?  Everyone was in agreement that something looked strange about my tumor, but no one really knew why.  I started my research and was sure I did not have your normal garden variety cervical cancer based on my history, the wording of the pathology report and the description of the tumor.  I pushed and pushed until they sent the tumor off for more pathology.  It came back;  I had Neuroendoncrine Small Cell of the Uterine Cervix (pathology also remarked there was no HPV in the DNA of the tumor.  I also did not have HPV)….uuuggghhhh.  Could it get any worse than that?  No, actually as far as cervical cancers go…it couldn’t.  Now what?
The diagnosis of Small Cell Cervical Cancer and the prognosis for survival are very grim.  There is very little known about this disease and the treatment or outcome are dubious.  With normal Cervical Cancer treatment options (surgery, then chemo with radiation) small cell usually spreads to another part of the body within a year from diagnosis.  Each time the cancer spreads you have less and less of a chance of beating it.  That was it in a nut shell.  I had to get rid of it completely and keep it from spreading to other parts of my body.  If I could do that, then I would live….right?   No guarantees here, just like every other cancer out there.    I knew I had to tell the family this time as the treatment would hit me so hard there would be no hiding it.  My son was 8 and my daughter was 13.  I started to tell the kids that I had cancer.  I wanted to explain everything so there would be no questions.  My 8 year old cut me off in mid sentence and said “all I want to know is if you are going to die?”.  I was taken aback and the first thing out of my mouth was “no”.  Both kids hugged me and walked out of the room.  I have to tell you that I know this battle has affected them, but you would have never known it by watching them on a daily basis.

I remember lying in bed and thinking “you should have never told him you weren’t going to die.  Anything can happen in life.  You could get hit by a bus and die tomorrow”.  That’s when it dawned on me;  this wasn’t about living or dying, this was about surviving life, just as I had always done.  Just as I knew I would continue to do.  It was a stumbling block;  a hurdle.  But nothing I couldn’t get through. There was no expiration date stamped to the bottom of my foot and I did not have to be a statistic.  God had a plan for me and just because I got cancer, did not mean it was what would ultimately kill me.  I was going to survive this and anything else that was thrown my way.  In 2007, after 7 months of harsh chemo and internal/external radiation, I was cancer free.   We had horrible medical insurance at the time and I could not work so we ended up losing everything…except for me.  We all thought that was a good trade off.  I survived the cancer, financial ruin and in the midst of all this, my biological aunt passed from her battle with breast cancer.  But I was still here.  I finished my book and it was published in 2008.  I started a website with another women who had SCCC, for women with this type of cancer and have a wonderful group of women supporting each other every day.  We have lost a couple of our comrades along the way, but it is still inspirational to be able to know these women and bring us all together in this fight.
In January of 2009 I was re-diagnosed with SCCC.  I never had a hysterectomy the first time around as Small Cell is very aggressive and does not wait to spread.  There simply wasn’t time, so we started treatment.  Oddly enough the cancer came back to my cervix.  It did not spread anywhere else.  This isn’t usually how Small Cell works, so I had beaten the odds once again.  I had massive chemo this time and then a hysterectomy that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  But today, January 27 2010, I am cancer free!     Every day I hope for a better day.  Not just for me and my family, but for everyone in the world.  Every day I strive to be a better person and give back to humanity and I teach my children to do the same.  Every day I do what I can to be a good wife, mother and friend despite what life might through my way.  Every day I am a survivor.   Cancer happens to be my battle at the moment and maybe for the rest of my life, but someone else’s battle may be something other than cancer.  You are still a survivor.

Don’t give up!!