Amanda Halter, 26
Martins Ferry (Hometown - Canton, Ohio)
Cervical Cancer - Diagnosed March 9, 2012
My cancer story: Like most people, I've known other people who have cancer, both friends and family. For me, everything went so quickly. I often look back questioning the decisions I made while knowing I would never have done anything differently. I went to the doctor's on Tuesday, March 6 for abnormal bleeding. They did a biopsy, and on Friday, March 9, I was told I had cervical cancer. Based on the size of the tumor and that it hadn't appeared to have spread, I was diagnosed as stage 1B2, recommendation was a hysterectomy.
My doctor referred me to a gynecologic oncologist in Morgantown. I saw that doctor on Monday, March 12. The decision was made that a radical hysterectomy was the best option, as well as the standard treatment for a person my age with stage 1B2 cervical cancer. My surgery was scheduled for the following Tuesday, March 20. My surgery went very well, and I had to stay in the hospital for several days.
In all reality, this is where my story should end. However, during my stay, my pathology came back, and while my margins were negative, three teeny-tiny little lymph nodes came back positive. It is always the smallest things that have the biggest impact. This meant that my cancer had spread - I was now Stage 2 and needed further treatment.
I was then referred to a radiologist. After four weeks recovering from my surgery, I was given the all clear to begin my next round of treatment. I had daily radiation for five weeks, along with weekly cisplatin (chemo) for six weeks. Due to my age and diagnosis, I qualified for a study on cervical cancer treatment. The purpose of the study is to improve the standard treatment for cervical cancer. I was randomly selected into the standard treatment plus leg, so I got standard treatment (radiation/chemo) plus additional chemo.
After my radiation/chemo, I had a six week break before I had four more chemos, this time it was carboplatin/taxol, each 21 days apart. My last treatment was Sept. 24.
Like all cancer patients, my journey has been a very difficult one. I had just turned 26, was newly engaged and looking forward to starting my own family. Being given the news that you have cancer is devastating, but then being told at 26 that you need a hysterectomy is just heartbreaking. Those early days were filled with lots of tears. Radiation and chemo weren't a walk in the park. I was constantly tired, nauseous and sore. I had lost my appetite, my hair and eyebrows. There were days where getting out of bed was a huge accomplishment. But thankfully I survived, and my hair is growing back!
Caregiver shout-out: My fiance, Justin Smith, has proven to me that true love does exist. Cancer has not only changed my path in life but it has also changed his. It would have been so easy for him to give up, and yet through it all, he has stood by me, never questioning his love for me. He helped me make all the difficult choices that had to be made and has given me strength when I felt defeated.
One lesson learned on your cancer journey: I am stronger than I think I am. I could never have imagined what it would be like to go through being diagnosed with cancer and all the treatment it involves. I mean, no one ever thinks they're going to get cancer! I never would have thought I could survive something like this. But when you're put in the situation, it's like something clicks inside and you have this strength you never knew you had.
Message to newly diagnosed and patients in treatment: Two words: stay positive. This is by far the best advice I ever got and also the most difficult! The easiest thing to do when given a cancer diagnosis is give up. When you hear the words "you have cancer," you just want to curl up in a ball, hide from the world and cry. I am constantly telling myself that things could be worse or reminding myself of all the good things I have in life. There will always be days when you want to just cry or be angry at the world. You have every right to feel that way, but don't let the sadness or anger overtake your life. Cancer shouldn't define who you are or control your life. It's just something bad that happens to good people, an obstacle that we can all overcome.
Amanda is a first year member of the Riders For A Cure team at Relay For Life of Belmont County, which will take place on June 14-15, 2013 at St. Clairsville Stadium. If you are a survivor and/or you would like to get involved in Relay For Life, please visit www.relayforlife.org/belmontcounty or call 888-227-6446 x3206.