Jenny Card and her husband were playing “Beat the Parents” with their kids when she got the phone call from her doctor. As she learned her tests were positive, her 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter oblivious by her side, Jenny locked eyes with her husband across the board-game-strewn table and mouthed the words: I have cancer.
“His jaw dropped, and tears welled in his eyes,” Jenny says. “I was in shock. You don’t really know what to say or think when you are told that. When I got off the phone, he just came over and held me.” An emotional ride ensued, made easier by supportive staff at Sky Ridge Medical Center. Now, because she doesn’t want other women to go through her experience, Jenny is sounding the message that cervical cancer can be prevented.
“The kicker here is that it had been eight years since my last Pap smear,” says Jenny, 30, whose tests detected cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV), the chief cause of cervical cancer. “If I had my Pap yearly, my doctor would have caught the HPV and the precancerous cells before they turned to cancer.”
Since the advent of the Pap test, rates of cervical cancer (once a main cancer-killer in women) have dropped by more than 50 percent. Women who test positive for HPV are followed even more closely for the often silent cancer.
For Jenny, her Stage 1 cancer gave her a signal: a traumatic bout of hemorrhaging during a family shopping trip. After one obstetrician told her to come in in three weeks, Jenny turned to Dr. Susan Ljunghag of the Sky Ridge OB/GYN Center. Within hours she was seen, and within days, Jenny was diagnosed.
Scared and anxious, Jenny welcomed the atmosphere of caring she felt at Sky Ridge. “I was in a daze,” she says of when she next saw her surgeon, Gynecologic Oncologist Dr. Glenn Bigsby. “He was so caring and detailed in explaining what was happening and what we could do to fight the cancer.”
Since she had finished with childbirth, Jenny chose a robotic-assisted radical hysterectomy to reduce the chance of recurrence. “Everybody was so kind,” she says, recalling her anxiousness the day of surgery. “I knew that when I was in that pre-op room, that it was going to be OK,” she says. “The nurses were like my angels, and then Dr. Bigsby came in and hugged me and told me that we were going to get on with our lives now.”
The minimally-invasive option was a good choice for the active mom and avid runner, who was never bed-ridden and started begging Dr. Bigsby to let her run again within three weeks (he said OK at about six weeks). “It was super quick,” Jenny says of the surgery, still marveling at how the procedure was performed through five, inch-long incisions.
Today, Jenny urges all parents to consider HPV vaccines for both boys and girls ages 10 to 12, as it can help reduce cervical and other forms of cancer. And, coming from someone who will now have Pap smears every six months for the rest of her life, she tells all women: “It is 30 minutes of your life one time a year. Just get it done. It’s worth it.”