Cervical Cancer Survivor Counts the ‘Sunny Days’

photo of Carol Lacey

Cervical cancer survivor Carol Lacey has been in remission – again – for a few weeks now. That means her treatment is working and at her last scan, doctors saw no evidence of cancer in her body. She’s celebrating the good news, but cautiously. “I have been here before, but I always embrace it because it’s still another sunny day; it’s still another step forward,” said Lacey.

I have been here before, but I always embrace it because it's still another sunny day; it's still another step forward.

Carol Lacey

In 2008, a regular cervical cancer screening test showed that Lacey had human papilloma virus (HPV) and she began having gynecologic visits twice a year. HPV is very common, and in most people it never causes any problems. But sometimes this infection can cause cancer. That’s what happened to Lacey. In 2011, she realized she’d missed a couple of visits. When she did go back, the doctor found a tumor on her cervix. “It was pretty devastating,” said Lacey. “When you hear those words, ‘you have cancer’ life stops. You kind of float.”

Lacey’s treatment plan included chemotherapy, a radical hysterectomy, and 28 rounds of radiation. She says it was a very stressful 4 months, and she had some tough conversations with her teenage children. “I was battered, but the sunny days kept coming and I was very hopeful,” she said.

Recurrence

Ten months later, the cancer came back. Lacey learned she would need extensive surgery, called pelvic exenteration, to remove all of the tumor. The surgery would remove her colon, bladder, and vagina, and create new openings to eliminate waste that comes out of the body. She says she was unfamiliar with the terms for the new openings: urostomy and colostomy. “I immediately went online to cancer.org to learn all I could about ostomies and what I’d be facing,” said Lacey.

“Having ostomies is challenging for the first 6 months to a year when you’re getting used to this foreign thing on your body,” she said, “but eventually it becomes part of your everyday life and it’s no big deal.” Lacey says she swims, hikes, and does everything else she used to do before she had the surgery.

Then, in 2013, Lacey received news she calls “earth shattering.” Her cancer was back and had metastasized (spread) to her liver and lymph nodes. “I was sad and angry because I’d been such a good patient,” said Lacey. “Despite all the love and support from my family and my village, I felt very alone.”

She began taking the targeted therapy drug Avastin (bevacizumab). It works by interfering with blood vessels that help cancer grow. Lacey’s tumors began to shrink and disappear.

Relay For Life

Around the time Lacey learned her cancer had metastasized, a friend told her about American Cancer Society Relay For Life events, held every year in communities around the world. They raise money to invest in research and to provide information and services to cancer patients and caregivers.

And for cancer survivors like Lacey, participating in the event can be an emotional connection with others who have gone through a similar experience. “It’s amazing to be a survivor and meet other cancer patients all sharing stories of hope and frustration,” said Lacey. She became part of a team and walked her first survivors’ lap in the Relay For Life of Santa Cruz in California. “It was the first time I stood in strength against my cancer and not in fear. It was very powerful,” said Lacey. “Being together with other survivors and patients and fighters gave me the feeling that I could stand up against this disease that is taking over my life right now.”

In 2015, Lacey was chosen as an American Cancer Society Hero for Hope and began sharing her story at events and fundraisers. She encourages people to donate money that provides rides to cancer treatment, workshops to help manage appearance side effects, and funding for cancer research. She says she hopes newer tools, including HPV vaccines and tests, will prevent more cervical cancers from ever occurring.