When New Jersey resident Amanda Tanay noticed some light bleeding after intercourse in the summer of 2013, she didn’t think much of it. At 33 years old, she felt healthy overall, so she decided to keep her eye on it and go about her life—raising her 4-year-old daughter and working full time as a social media manager and copy editor.
When Amanda told her gynecologist about the bleeding at her yearly checkup, the doctor’s response was that it was probably due to hormonal changes. She took some swabs to test for infections, but everything came back negative. Amanda thought she had a clean bill of health.
But by the summer of 2014, the bleeding had gotten worse. So Amanda went back to her gynecologist.
“The moment she examined me I could tell by the look on her face that something was wrong.”
After undergoing a colposcopy—a procedure where the cervix is examined more closely—and waiting for a few days to get the results, Amanda received a diagnosis of cervical cancer.
“What goes into your head is, ‘Oh my god I’m going to die.’ You go to the worst case scenario.”
In 2018, the American Cancer Society predicts that 13,240 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed, and 4,170 women will die from the disease. If cervical cancer is diagnosed early, the 5-year survival rates are good (93% for stage 0 or stage IA). But Amanda worried her diagnosis may have come too late.
In August of 2014, Amanda underwent a hysterectomy to remove her uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes, as well as some pelvic lymph nodes. Two of the lymph nodes had microscopic traces of cancer in them, so Amanda also had to undergo chemo and radiation to remove all traces of cancer from her body.
The chemo and radiation treatments were physically and emotionally draining, but Amanda’s parents, husband and daughter kept her going throughout the journey. By the end of her treatment, Amanda had lost 20 pounds, but she was finally cancer-free.
Amanda’s cervical cancer treatment was a success, but three years later, she still thinks her diagnosis should have come earlier. She was shocked when she learned that her gynecologist did not do a Pap test in 2013, when she first told her about the bleeding.
“She swabbed for infections but did not do a Pap test because I’d had a clear test results in 2012, which was standard with the current guidelines. I was shocked about this because I’d had a history of abnormal Pap test results and tested positive for a high-risk strain of HPV (human papilloma virus) in 2007.”
HPV is present in about 99 percent of cervical cancer cases, so HPV screening is critical for all women, even if you have been vaccinated against HPV. The Pap test is a tool that can detect precancerous lesions in the cervix caused by HPV before they become cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends women get a Pap test every three years beginning at age 21 and an HPV test every 5 years beginning at age 30. Since regular Pap testing has become standard practice in gynecology, death rates from cervical cancer have declined by about 50 percent.
As a cervical cancer survivor, Amanda has become an advocate for women, reminding them to always make sure they are getting the correct screenings and tests if they think something is wrong, and stressing the importance of scheduling yearly well exams. She also wants women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer to keep moving forward, even when it’s hard.
“The biggest thing is just have faith in yourself, and make sure that you have faith in your oncology team. And if you’re not getting the treatment you think you should be getting from them, find someone else. Always find someone who is going to listen to you.”
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