Advocating for Your Health
- Jaelle Goddard, from Barbados, was diagnosed with stage 3c cervical cancer at age 23 after repeatedly having her concerns dismissed by doctors.
- Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix – the lower part of the womb (uterus). Treatment options for cervical cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually-transmitted virus, causes more than 70% of cervical cancer cases.
- Being your own advocate can be key to coming to a correct cancer diagnosis and obtaining the best treatment possible while dealing with a diagnosis.
Jaelle Goddard, a 24 year old from Barbados, knows this all too well and is sharing her cancer journey to help inform others. At the age of 23, she was diagnosed with stage 3C cervical cancer that had spread to lymph nodes in her stomach and pelvis. But arriving at the correct diagnosis was a journey in and of itself.Read More
The bleeding only got worse, so she went to the doctors again. This time they told her she might be having a miscarriage, but she insisted on an ultrasound because she knew something was wrong. From there, doctors gave her antibiotics and told her she had fibroids, a noncancerous growth, and hydrosalpinx, a condition in which the fallopian tube is filled with fluid due to injury or infection. The bleeding continued.
“The bleeding got worse to the point of constant pouring blood and palm sized blood clots,” Goddard said. “I went to accident and emergency because I was terrified by that point… There, they ran blood tests, STD screens and did a pelvic exam which is where the first concerns of cancer were mentioned and I was referred urgently to an obstetrician-gynecologist.”
After that, Goddard had a pap smear which came back “abnormal” followed by a biopsy which indicated high grade dysplasia – a condition that can rarely develop into cancer – which led to the removal of her abnormal cells. It was only after that treatment that a biopsy revealed her cancer. It had been three months since the start of her symptoms.
“I think that had my symptoms been taken more seriously, we could have possibly caught my cancer earlier,” she said. “It has made me very paranoid and upset that I was misdiagnosed.”
Given the advanced stage of her cancer, Goddard was offered a spot in a clinical trial for treatment. Still, the clinical trial was very expensive and lack of funding forced her to wait until August for treatment.
“I finished treatment in November and am currently awaiting tests to see if my cancer is in remission but while fighting it I’ve had to take a break from work and from school,” she said. “It’s taken a toll on everything I do as my energy is super low and my body feels tired and sore.
“I lost about 11lbs during treatment – which on top of the weight I already lost from the onset of symptoms to the beginning of treatment made me drop three dress sizes, from a size 14 to a size 8.”
She’s anxiously awaiting to see what her next steps will look like, but Goddard has been able to reflect on what her cancer journey has taught her so far.
“It has really made me realize I need to look after myself more and make more effort in doing things that make life more worthwhile and make me happy,” she said. “It has also made me more aware of how important preventive care really is so I’ve been ensuring I have checkups regarding everything else during this time.”
And her advice to others experiencing any sort of symptoms in simple: Get them checked out.
“It’s never a waste of time, it can potentially save your life and if the diagnosis feels dismissive, don’t shy away from getting a second opinion,” she said.
Understanding Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix – the lower part of the womb (uterus). Treatment options for cervical cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually-transmitted virus, causes more than 70% of cervical cancer cases. It’s important to note, however, that other risk factors like smoking can make you about twice as likely to get cervical cancer as those who don’t smoke.
The American Cancer Society estimates that the United States will see about 14,100 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in 2022. Cervical cancer screening is critically important because an earlier diagnosis can mean a better prognosis with broader treatment options. The American Cancer Society recommends that cervical cancer screening begins at age 25, and people aged 25 to 65 should have a primary HPV test, an HPV test done by itself for screening, every 5 years. If primary HPV testing is not available, however, screening may be done with either a co-test that combines an HPV test with a Papanicolaou (Pap) test every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
The most common symptoms of cervical cancer can include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal sex, bleeding after menopause, after douching, bleeding and spotting in between periods or having heavier or longer (menstrual) periods than usual.
- Unusual discharge from the vagina that may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.
- Pain during sex.
- Pain in the pelvic region.
The Importance of Advocating for Your Health
Whether you are currently battling cancer or worried that you might have it, it’s always important to advocate for your health. Cancer is an incredibly serious disease, and you have every right to insist that your doctors investigate any possible signs of cancer – a lesson we can all learn from Goddard.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murrell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period. Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you actually have cancer based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way to ensure you’re getting the care and attention you need.
Another thing to remember is that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes it’s essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.