During one of her first tests while pregnant, Bethany Hart took a routine Pap smear and learned that the result was abnormal. At the time, the then-30-year-old was about 10 weeks along, and the nurse reassured Hart that she was probably fine.
“I remember hanging up the phone, and having this nagging feeling, ‘Well, that’s weird. That’s never happened to me before.'” Hart, now 36, of Noblesville, Ind., recalled to TODAY.com. “I called a couple of my girlfriends, and I think two of the first three people I talked to were like, ‘We’ve been there before and it’s okay.'”
When Hart was 16 weeks pregnant, her doctor performed a prescreening colposcopy, a test that allows a closer look at the cells of the cervix. After that, the doctor suggested that she go to an oncologist. She soon found out. Rare, aggressive cervical cancer.
“The oncologist looked at me and said, ‘It’s cancer,'” Hart said. “That’s how our whole world turned upside down.”
Cervical cancer and pregnancy
Before the abnormal Pap smear test, Hart had always had normal test results showing changes in the cells of her cervix. At first, she seemed to be able to carry her pregnancy, her first, last, but when she learned that her cervical cancer was a small cell, rare and aggressive type, everything became certain.
Hart did not experience any symptoms or warning signs, like many patients with this type of cancer. Her doctor described the condition as “tumors exploding,” which accurately captures her own story, she says. Hart visited her ob-gyn regularly during the first weeks of her pregnancy, and “there were no signs of trouble,” she recalls. But at 16 weeks, “they could clearly see the tumor and knew it was malignant. It came out of nowhere.”
It was stage 1 heart cancer. As doctors tried to plan her treatment, she had to be strong enough to beat the cancer, and Hart tragically lost her pregnancy at 19 weeks.
“It wasn’t just the ability to process what was happening,” Hart says. “You are fighting for your life and dealing with the physical side effects of the treatment.”
Treatment was very aggressive and included radical hysterectomy, 28 rounds of external radiation concurrently with five rounds of chemotherapy and three final rounds of internal radiation.
Hart remembers her doctor telling her the treatment was “throwing it down the kitchen sink.” “I knew I was going to the brink of death to get rid of cancer,” she says.
Small or large cell cervical cancer
according to MD Anderson Cancer Center, small or large cell cervical cancer is very rare, accounting for about 100 of the 11,000 cervical cancer cases per year – less than 1%. It is aggressive and has few, if any, symptoms.
“Most cervical cancers do not have symptoms,” Dr. Meera Ravindranathan, medical director at Onco Health, an advocacy group for people diagnosed with cancer, told TODAY.com. “Usually when symptoms appear, it’s more advanced cancer.”
Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
Bleeding between periods
Bleeding after sex
People often experience these symptoms for other reasons, which makes it difficult to know when to contact a doctor. But Ravindranath says it’s important to tell your doctor about bleeding and discharge to rule out cervical cancer.
“There’s a stigma and a stigma attached to talking about women’s bodies,” says Ravindranathan. “It’s important for women to have a relationship with their doctor where they feel comfortable and confident talking about their bodies, especially young women.”
Screening can lead to an earlier diagnosis of cervical cancer. of American Cancer Society Cervical cancer screening for ages 25 to 65 recommends one of three options: primary human papillomavirus (HPV) screening every five years, Pap alone every 3 years, or combined HPV and Pap screening every five years; TODAY.com previously reported.
HPV is a “ubiquitous virus” that causes most cervical cancers, says Ravindranathan. Most people get it through bodily fluids, said Dr. Marshall Posner, formerly co-director of the Cancer Clinical Investigation Program at the Tissue Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai. He told TODAY.com.. For most people, the body can clear HPV, so the virus is no longer active in their system. But for a small number of people, the virus can reactivate and cause cancer; It is not known why.
“Some people get a persistent infection in the cells in the cervix, and then the virus stays there for a long time and makes those cells precancerous,” Ravindranathan says. “If we don’t detect those precancerous cells or HPV infection through a Pap smear, the precancerous cells will turn into cancer. One thing to remember though is that the process takes 10 to 15 years.
HPV causes more than 95% of cervical cancer, according to the World Health Organization, but the type of cancer Hart had – small cell cervical cancer – has nothing to do with HPV. “The cause is not fully understood,” MD Anderson said.
These types of cancer “have a natural tendency to grow and spread quickly, and no matter how quickly we catch it, we always use chemotherapy and radiation because we know it’s very aggressive,” says Ravindranathan. .
Creating a legacy
After her treatment ended, Hart was devastated by the loss of her daughter, Hallie. She and her husband recently bought a house and renovated a nursery, which became a constant reminder of their loss.
“It’s just a reminder every time I pass her room,” she says. “To lose your daughter, to face cancer, to face the fact that we will never have a biological family at the same time – these are three very big events in themselves and in their lives. But it was unusual for all three to happen together.
In the year In 2018, Hart launched the Hallie Strong Foundation to honor her missing daughter. She sends fun and comfortable socks to cancer patients.
“Socks are a very real need. Hospitals are awful. They’re very clean, and often when you’re in the hospital, socks are your only thing to wear,” she says. “Anytime they wear it, we do something intentional to create this constant reminder that you’re not alone and that there’s a legacy of a little girl who lost her life to cancer.”
Hart was cancer-free, but because of how aggressive this cancer can be, she still worries about a recurrence.
“I’ll always have this little (fear) in my mind forever,” she says. “As a cancer survivor, it’s hard to know when a cough is because you have a sinus infection or is it lung cancer? I think I will look at life through this lens forever.
Thanks to adoption, she and her husband now have two sons, ages 3 and 1, who are her “saving grace.” She serves as a peer mentor with Iris, an oncology-focused app called OncoHealth, and shares her experiences to help others feel less alone.
“No matter what your diagnosis is, no matter what type of cancer, it’s impossibly difficult,” says Hart. “Sharing your story opens the door for someone passing by to say, ‘Hey, what are you feeling? It’s totally normal.’ We all get it.’ And the more you open up and let people in, the better you are at surviving.”
This article was originally published by TODAY.com