At 33 years old my family and I were blindsided with my diagnosis of metastatic cervical cancer. I underwent a whirlwind treatment regimen over 9 weeks that consisted of a handful of procedures, surgery to remove pelvic lymph nodes, chemotherapy, and both external and internal radiation. It was brutal, but it worked. Scans today continue to show No Evidence of Disease, which fills me with hope and gratitude every day. While treatment was relatively quick, the aftermath was largely unexpected and continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, as I manage various side effects from menopause to lymphedema.
One of those “joys” stems from having had internal radiation (brachytherapy). Due to having radiation placed directly on my cervix, there is the continual formation of scar tissue that threatens to close up my vagina if not stretched on a normal basis. The way you stretch it is either to use a dilator, have sex, or a combination. For many women, including myself, sex after cancer treatment can be scary or painful, making the dilator a more practical solution unless and until you’re comfortable being intimate again. My radiation oncologist recommended that I dilate 3-4 times per week for the rest of my life. Even knowing what could happen if I don’t, it still takes a lot of discipline to commit to doing something for the rest of your life, especially when it’s not particularly comfortable. It didn’t help that the dilator I was sent home with was cold, hard plastic. It hardly inspired my will to keep up with it. I’ve recently been experimenting with less rigid, clinical dilators and it’s been a game changer. I enjoy using the Vuva dilators because I feel a difference in my pelvic pain after using it, so it feels like it’s pulling double duty. I’m hopeful that between this and the pelvic floor therapy I receive, that I will eventually reach a point of being comfortable with sex again. As vulnerable as I feel talking about something so personal, I think it’s important that other women in the same boat know that they aren’t alone in this “new normal” post-cancer life.
My childhood friend Ashleigh and I started an Instagram account called @dilator_diaries to try to bring some humor to those who’ve also experienced the trauma of treatment for advanced cervical cancer.
Ashleigh gets all of the credit for her doodles and sense of humor. I’m just lucky to have her support and to be able to share it with others. While it’s just for fun and a sidebar to my advocacy efforts, those much needed laughs and camaraderie of those who also just “get it” have been a godsend to my healing. I hope that our followers feel the same.
Thank you for sharing your story Mary!
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