By Vanessa Hudson
Note from Jenna: Our guest blogger this week is Vanessa Hudson. I had the pleasure of connecting with Vanessa through a group of women called The Teal Ladies, a Facebook group comprised of ovarian and cervical cancer warriors and thrivers. Vanessa is from Natal, South Africa in the district of Glenwood. She lives there with her husband, Paul. Together they have a ten-year-old son and a fourteen-year-old daughter. Vanessa loves music and cooking for her family. Before being diagnosed with cancer, she was working as a secretary and studying to become a teacher. I would like to thank Vanessa for sharing her incredible journey with us.
Vanessa sent me some facts about cervical cancer taken from mariestopes.org.za/cervical-cancer-the-facts-you-need-to-know/:
Cervical cancer affects roughly one in 41 South African women, and Statistics South Africa estimates that 16.84-million women over the age of 15 are at risk of the disease in this country. At present, roughly eight South African women die from the disease every day, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that this figure could rise to 12 by 2025. If you’ve never had a pap smear, you need to read this article – it could save your life or the life of someone you love.
What is cervical cancer? Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the tissue of the cervix. Usually, it is a slow-progressing cancer that may not have obvious or immediate symptoms, but can be detected by a pap smear. A pap smear is a procedure in which a sample of cervical cells are examined under a microscope and checked for irregularities. 1. More women develop and die of cervical cancer than any other type of cancer in South Africa. 2. Worldwide a woman dies of cervical cancer every two minutes. 3. Each year in South Africa, approximately 6700 women develop cervical cancer while an estimated 3700 die from it. 4. In South Africa a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer in her lifetime is 1 in 31. 5. It is a cancer that is often diagnosed late and the survival rate is low. 6. Research shows that less than 20 percent of South African women have ever gone for a Pap smear (the recommended method of screening for cervical cancer). 7. The incidence of cervical cancer in South Africa is high when compared to women in western countries and appears at a younger age.
My sacred story
By Vanessa Hudson
I am a 32-year-old mother of two, I am here to day to share in my journey.
In 2012, I had taken my son to the doctor. I asked the doctor about having pap smear done as I was experiencing some problems. On the 25th of Feb 2012, I got an appointment with the gynae. I was bleeding so profusely that it was difficult for [my doctor] to get a sample, but eventually she did. When the results came back, the doctor called to say that she needed to speak to us urgently. I feared the worst, I called my husband to meet me there. The doctor told us that the results came back as aggressively malignant cells, aka Cancerous. And that there was a tumor. He couldn’t tell us much more so he advised that I see a specialist immediately. My world fell apart! The horror! Cancer, me? No there must be some mistake. This just can’t be. Thereafter, whatever the doctor said was drowned out by my thoughts. My husband looked at me with tears in his eyes. He kept saying, “No, no…this cant be!” The drive back home was an emotional one. I have never seen my husband so emotional before.
When we saw the specialist, he told us that depending the size of the tumor, I might have to have a surgery. The night before the surgery, the house was quiet and tense, my mum stayed over to help with the kids. Paul and I prayed the divine mercy as we sat in quietly in each other’s presence. Eventually we got some rest. June 3rd, 2012 was the day of the surgery. I had to be at hospital early to get prepped for theatre.* The procedure began at 10:00am and it took five hours. I remember waking up in recovery and hearing the nurses talking, I vaguely remember saying to one of the nurses to have faith. She smiled and said thank you, despite what I was going through God gives me the strength for try and be strong for others. I was taken to ICU when I came to, I had pipes and tubes coming out of my body, a drip in my jugular vein, a drain in my tummy, a catheter and a heart machine. I also had morphine pumped into my body on demand. I didn’t have a clue as to what had been done, all I knew was that I couldn’t move. I was only allowed close family as visitors and could only see my kids through a glass window. I remember looking into the eyes of my little girl as tears rolled down her cheek, as she said, “I love you” in sign language. It tore me apart not being able to hold them or kiss them or to tell them that mummy was going to be fine.
*Theatre is the room where surgery is performed.
The next day when the doctor came to see me, he told me that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. He removed the nodes but I needed to start treatment immediately. I spent 14 days in ICU, I was being washed in bed. As a woman, the thought of you not being able to care for yourself makes you feel like an invalid, I wanted to get out! On my last day in ICU a priest visited me, he said he was there to read me my last rights but I didn’t look like I was ready to go. It was hilarious but at the same time scary. I was then moved to the surgical ward. My movement was still very limited. The next day I had to start physiotherapy to learn how to walk again. At first I thought it would be easy but I couldn’t even sit up straight. As the sessions went on, I progressed. By the 4th session I took my first step. I tried my best, but sometimes it felt so hard that I would cry. But I was determined. I kept on pushing myself. My doctor told me that I was doing so well, I started eating soft solids and started going to the bathroom by myself. On the 19th day of being in hospital the doctor said I could go home the [following] day. I was in pain, but shouting in thanksgiving to my lord.
When I got home I was really moody and emotional. My husband had to bath me and wash my hair. As he poured the water over me I started crying uncontrollably, as a woman not being able to care for myself. Apologising to him for being such a burden and he didn’t deserve this. He tried to comfort me but I heard nothing. I was angry with myself for not being able to do [these] things.
I was called to the Oncology centre the next day. All the necessary tests were done, I waited patiently. The oncologist called me in and said treatment couldn’t start as there was something wrong with my kidneys, I had to go back to the specialist. This was really beginning to drain me. The specialist said that my kidneys were leaking and I needed to go back into theatre, he was going to put in two straw-like structures to hold the kidneys up. On the 4th of April, one day after my 26th birthday, I was back in theatre and came out the next day. On the 10th of April 2012, I began my [first] treatment of 33 radiation sessions. That week I also had my first of 17 chemotherapy session, five hours each. I felt my lord’s hand guide me as I had to go through each obstacle. As the obstacles got more and more difficult to face, my faith got stronger. The radiation was quick but so harmful and I wasn’t allowed to use soap or a scrub, as the skin was extra sensitive. At times, I would get so frustrated that I would scrub myself and then later. I regretted that. As I wiped myself my skin peeled of like a banana. [Sometimes] I would just cry and look to the floor as it was covered in brown skin, my skin.
My chemo was extremely difficult to handle especially since [after each session] I couldn’t come into contact with anyone as it was dangerous to my health. They said that my hair would fall off after the first session and that I needed to drink a solution to make sure that the chemo leaves my body [quickly] as it will damage all my other organs if it stayed for too long. I took all these negatives and put it aside because as they say, “where the mind goes the body follows.” It was tiring on both my husband and, as he had to take the reins of the household, the kids, and me. The effects of the treatment felt worse as it went along. My immune system started battling to keep up. There were other treatments and at times I would get turned away for chemo on account of [my blood counts] being too low. When it couldn’t be postponed any longer, I had to receive injections in my tummy administered at home to increase the bone marrow. Paul hated giving them to me as he hated seeing me in pain. These injections felt as if I was being torn apart inside from the inside out. I couldn’t handle the pain and I called out to my lord to take me, I didn’t want to feel this way. It hurt so much. I calmed down a little as my little girl came to me and said, “Please don’t go to heaven mummy, I need you. Please don’t leave.” I tried to be strong. My husband sat at my side feeling so helpless. Holding on tight to his rosary praying as I moaned and groaned in pain. At my chemo sessions, I tried to keep my mind busy by studying for my [Bachelor of Education] exam in October. I prayed and read my bible, I did anything to uplift my spirit and keep me going strong.
My hair didn’t fall out and I didn’t lose that much weight. When people looked at me they would never have guessed that I was sick unless I told them. I always tried to look good to feel better. It was hard financially, even though we had medical aid. And Paul tried to hide this from me, but I eventually found out. But the anesthetist called to say there is no charge for the second time in theatre and the specialist refunded the deposit because he didn’t do the hysterectomy. I had to go to work the day after all my chemo sessions just so I could get paid. I was at a religious event when I had come to realize all that was handed to me over the past months was my cross to bear. I was no longer afraid of death, I embraced it I [knew] that it is not death I should fear, I should fear failing to live every day to the fullest.
In July 2012, we got notice that we needed to move out because the landlord wanted to start renovations. We were beyond stressed and I searched the net day and night. Finally, I came across a place for sale in Glenwood. We went to have a look and as I walked around, I claimed that house. We were the second offer in and weren’t too sure if we would get a bond with the year we just had. At the end of August, we got an email saying that the bond was approved and the first offer fell through! In September, we moved in and on the 18 of October 2012, I had my last chemo session. At the end of October, I wrote my Bachelor of education 2nd year exam and passed with distinctions. On the 16 of January 2013, I went for a final scan. On the 23 January 2013 while shopping, I received a phone call it was the oncologist, she called to tell me that I am officially cancer free! I started screaming and shouting, my husband picked me up and twirled me around, people thought we had won the lotto but it was much better than that, we won our lives biggest battle because of faith.
In February 2017, I was admitted again into hospital because my ureters where closing up and causing me to pass blood. I was taken into theatre again, and had kidney stents put in. I stayed in hospital for 3 weeks, thereafter I was back to work, back to life, as good as almost new, so I thought. Then in May 2018, I started passing blood again and rushed to the emergency room. I was admitted to hospital, my specialist advised that I was in kidney failure. I was in hospital for 19d ays, of which 13 days was spent in the ICU. My doctor advised that I would have a dialysis port put in, another doctor came to see me to put in the port. He really battled to insert it in the groin area as my lymphedema was making it difficult. After attempting and having [my] blood splattered all over the place another doctor tried to put it in, but he put it in into my upper chest area. I received dialysis in ICU and was then moved to a general ward where my creatinine levels were monitored. I was then sent home and got back to work. Life carried on as normal, we bought a new house in October 2018, and in January 2019 I had to have my stents replaced. It was a day procedure that was quick and relatively pain-free. On 20th February 2019, I began to feel ill, I had the same symptoms as when I had the previous kidney failure. So I went to a doctor who did a blood test and advised that I should be admitted immediately as I was in kidney failure once again. I was admitted and I had a nephrostomy bag (a pipe connected directly to the kidney connected to a bag to drain the kidney directly to prevent swelling) put in with which I was discharged with. I will keep the bag on for 4 weeks until I will have to undergo a major open surgery called an Illeal Major Reconstruction, this procedure is basically where the doctor will cut a piece of my colon and my appendix to make me new ureters. To get back to the present, I am 6 years cancer free (it will be 7 years when I see my specialist at the end of October) but because of all the treatment I have loads of side effects from the treatment. I am soon to be 33 years old, I am on hormone replacement because I’m going through menopause, I can’t have any more kids (that’s ok though I have my pigeon pair). I am gaining huge amounts of weight because of the hormone imbalance, I have non-existent lymph nodes, meaning I swell on parts of my body. I take 50 000mg of calcium a week because I have osteoporosis. I can’t eat most foods as it affects my intestines which are damaged due to radiation therapy. I’m moody, I can go on and on complaining but the most important thing is that I’m alive. I am a strong believer of speaking healing into your body. Everything in my life that I have [asked of] God has become a reality. Claim your experience, don’t let it claim you.
Thank you for letting me share my journey with you and to remind you that although sometimes you might give up on yourself, HE never gives up on you. My faith kept me alive.