"It made me mad that many women – like myself – get the Pap test every year and feel safe afterward when sometimes, they're not."

span quote left  It's amazing how much life can change in one year. Going back to Christmas of 2004, I can easily remember how excited I was about my life and the year to come. At the age of 34, I felt blessed to be healthy and happy, and to have a promising new job ahead of me. Moreover, my fiancée and I were talking about marriage plans and the possibility of children. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

But over the following months, I started to feel sick and experienced strange symptoms. I couldn't explain it; I just didn't feel right. In the end, I attributed it to the stress of a job change, the winter blahs and who knows what else. After all, I had just seen my doctor in September for my annual check-up and Pap test and received the all-clear as usual. So I thought my symptoms could wait a few weeks until my new job's health insurance kicked in.

In early February, after my insurance took effect, I went to the doctor to prove to myself that the voice in my head was wrong. But as I sat in his office I could see in his face that something was not right. Sure enough, right after Valentine's Day, I received that life-changing, stomach-sinking phone call – I had advanced cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer? I hardly knew where my cervix was. It was not even on my radar of diseases to worry about – I was too young for that. Sure, some women my age get breast or ovarian cancer, but where did this disease come from? I had always been healthy and had a history of normal Pap tests. How could I be fine in September and have cancer in February? I was so shocked and overwhelmed that I cannot remember the explanation my doctor gave me. All I can recall is that he said cervical cancer is caused by a virus with a really long name. I later learned it is called the human papillomavirus or HPV, a disease that around 80 percent of sexually active people get, though most fight off without a problem.

After my initial diagnosis, more testing revealed that my cancer had grown into a golf ball-sized tumor. The doctors said the only way to save my life was a hysterectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. Without a choice, I said goodbye to my dream of having children of my own and began a rigorous regime of treatment.

It was tough, but I was lucky to have a good specialist and an even better network of friends and family who supported and loved me unconditionally. But all along I had this nagging feeling: why was this happening to me?

Then two weeks after my hysterectomy, I was watching television and saw a commercial for the HPV test and how it can help prevent cervical cancer. After seeing this commercial a couple of times, I wanted more information. I was angry that as a cervical cancer patient I didn't know about this test, or much about HPV for that matter.

Overflowing and frustrated with questions, I hit the Internet. It was there that I found out the Pap test is not foolproof – in fact, as it was in my case, it can miss pre-cancerous cells year after year! But this HPV test, when it's used with the Pap test, finds the cancer-causing HPV almost 100 percent of the time.

It made me mad that many women – like myself – get the Pap test every year and feel safe afterward when sometimes, they're not. I was also surprised that being older than 30 put me at a higher risk for cervical cancer. These realizations motivated me to start talking about the disease with my friends, family, coworkers and community.

I have been cancer free since July 2005. With this assurance, I am picking up the pieces of my life and doing my best to share the lessons I've learned. I just hope by discussing my experience I can help other women lead healthy, happy and cervical cancer-free lives.span quote right