Kelly Sarah O'Shaughnessy's Story

"For as long as I can remember, maintaining my health has been a big part of my life. In fact... "

span quote left  For as long as I can remember, maintaining my health has been a big part of my life. In fact, my father is a family practice doctor and my mom is a nurse, so health has always been something we all discussed quite openly. Because of my family’s influence, I’ve always made time for a yearly physical and have never missed my annual gynecologist appointment.

So, after a lifetime of normal Pap smears, in September of 2004 I was surprised to be told that my Pap had come back abnormal. My gynecologist did not seem too worried and scheduled a follow-up Pap in three months. My next Pap came back normal and I thought everything was fine. I then scheduled another one for six months later, which brings us to June of 2005. Being a kindergarten teacher, my schedule was very full, as was my gynecologist’s, so the follow-up appointment had to be rescheduled multiple times. When I finally did get back to my doctor, the test results came back abnormal again! Naturally, I began to worry. The next step was to undergo a colposcopy and unfortunately, I had to wait another agonizing couple of months to get the results. When I made it back to the doctor yet again, he had very upsetting news – I had severe cervical dysplasia (pre-cancerous cells). Because of this diagnosis, a special type of biopsy was performed to determine whether I had developed cervical cancer!

In the wake of my diagnosis, I was blessed to have unwavering support from my friends and my family. After thoroughly discussing my diagnosis with my parents, I realized that cervical cancer is a very misunderstood disease. My mother, a long-practicing nurse, did not even know that cervical cancer was caused by a sexually transmitted infection, human papillomavirus (HPV), or that you could contract HPV from just one partner.

Two days after the biopsy, my doctor called and confirmed I had cervical cancer. In order to eradicate all signs of cancer that had developed, I had to have surgery, along with a five-week regimen of chemotherapy, radiation and internal radiation, which left me unable to have children. For a young woman who was not married and desperately wanted children of her own some day, this was extremely devastating news.

After surviving this potentially life-threatening cancer, I have a much improved view on life. I have learned to slow down the once frantic pace to which I had become accustomed and, most importantly, appreciate the people in my life.

Even though my battle with cervical cancer was tough, I could not have made it through the ordeal without a major support network established by my fellow teachers. During the chemotherapy and radiation, $1,000 was raised on my behalf for a wig, in case I needed it (I’m glad to say that I did not lose my hair!). In addition, two months of "vacation/sick" days were donated so I could take time off without any worries. It was one of the most touching gestures anyone has ever performed for me.

I have also become a vocal advocate of HPV education. I want to share my story with other women so they do not have to go through what I did. I’ve already encouraged my friends and family to make certain they schedule annual doctor visits, and I’d like all women to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask their gynecologist questions and to make sure they have an HPV test along with a Pap to detect the virus before it has a chance to become cancer. I would never want another woman to go through what I did because of an easily preventable cancer.span quote right