In her earlier article titled “I am a cervical cancer survivor. But don’t be like me”, writer Cindy Fernandez shared her experience of nearly losing her life to stage 4 cervical cancer, which was diagnosed in early 2020.
Today, the 54-year-old is cancer-free, having received a clean bill of health after her last pap smear in November 2022. The irony of this is, this was the very procedure that would have saved her the pain of undergoing a string of incredibly intense cancer treatments and a long list of aftercare that she still practices today.
Although Cindy remains immensely grateful to be alive to share her story with the world, she can’t help but wonder if women out there are aware of the importance of getting their regular pap smear screening done to catch this disease early and don’t allow it to progress to a dangerous, life-threatening stage, as was the case with herself.
In Malaysia, there have been close to 1,800 diagnosed cases of cervical cancer reported every year and approximately a thousand lives are lost nationwide to this dreaded disease. Cervical cancer is also the fourth most common type of cancer to occur among women in Malaysia.
Getting a pap smear done when she was due to have one might have saved Cindy from the agony of undergoing multiple cycles of cancer treatments. It would have also prevented her from being placed in such a dangerous situation where she could have lost her life. Just a few minutes was all it would have taken, but, as she put it: “I failed to do it.”
Today, Cindy realises that at the end of it all, there will still be women out there who may find themselves in the same predicament as she was a couple of years ago. And like herself, their lives could be in limbo too. For this particular group of women, as well as for those who know of anybody who is fighting for their lives due to late-stage cervical cancer, Cindy has kindly agreed to share some of her life-saving tips which she practiced in order to beat the odds despite her bleak prognosis.
But before that, here’s a brief recap of a fraction of her ordeal.
I was told at one point that it would be irrational to expect the cancer mass to be eradicated entirely, and the best they could do was to render it dormant through the cancer treatments they had planned out for me. These included numerous rounds of chemotherapies and radiotherapies, as well as four rounds of what I found to be the most invasive of all treatments, called brachytherapy.
They were right. At the end of all the treatments, I had to come to terms with the fact that while the mass had indeed reduced a little in size and was now inactive, it was still very much there. Present. Tangible. Waiting to come alive again!
So, while I was relieved to have made it through the treatments, I wasn’t out of the woods yet. And that wasn’t how I wanted my story to be. I knew it was time to take matters into my own hands and try to change the course of my journey if I was to escape becoming one of the statistics of lives claimed by this particular cancer each year.
I'm not sure if any of you out there have spoken to a cancer patient who has just undergone brachytherapy. It is, hands down, an utterly invasive procedure whereby in my case, I had to endure radioactive waves being targeted towards my cancer mass via intracavity rods placed into my vagina. While I am explaining this in layman’s terms, I assure you, that’s about it.
I’m pretty sure my body could have withstood the chemos and the radiotherapies… but this particular procedure, the brachytherapy, which was administered to me four times within a span of two weeks, rendered me helpless with the sort of pain and discomfort that I could not bear. That, together with a rather grim prognosis of the cancer mass still very much there… What can I say? I felt defeated.
I remember laying in bed somewhere in the second week after my last brachytherapy procedure, with tears rolling down my face as I was in extreme pain. At that time, the medicine given to me was tramadol, a powerful painkiller. Needless to say, it wasn't working for me. I was told by my oncologist, as well as the pharmacy staff at the cancer centre that if I was still in pain, then I should switch to morphine which was also prescribed to me. I initially didn’t want to do that but I had a lightbulb moment in my head. I thought to myself that if the morphine worked, I could finally get on with my healing plan which I had in mind but could not yet set in motion due to the pain I was in.
I was, at the time, still the editor of a well-known health magazine. Hence, I did have a fair amount of information, knowledge and idea of what I can do to try to beat this disease.
I drafted four main categories to help me reach my goal of being cancer free. They were: Cancer-beating Nutrition; Inner Work; Pure, Positive Energy; and Engaging in a Worthwhile Project. However, I needed to first get out of bed, but the pain just did not allow me to.
Hence, I decided to reach for the morphine and indeed it did work out well for me. Within 20 minutes, I was out of bed and was even playing with my beloved pets. My partner, Andy, could hardly believe his eyes, for he too was getting worried about my unmanageable pains before this.
I remember rolling out of bed, unbelievably relieved from the intense pain I was in just a few minutes ago and walking out of my room to be greeted by two of our five dogs. I can also remember the look on Andy’s face when I asked him if he wanted me to make him some coffee!
Yes, it was a day to remember. I regretted being stubborn about taking my morphine before this, as I had worries pertaining to the medication... addiction being one of them. Slowly, I began to accept that I can’t have it all. If I was going to have any quality at all in my life, I just had to take what works for me, even if it happens to be a somewhat controversial kind of drug. In other words, do I want to lay in bed in agony and just wait to expire painfully? Or, do I take the medicine, forget what I (and anyone else) think about it and get to function like a human being, and….. live my life? I chose the latter and I do not regret it.
As we were having coffee and some biscuits that morning, I told Andy that I have a plan to rid my body of that dreaded mass which was still inside me. He was just happy to see me up and about, and gladly obliged my every request. We then drove over to a supermarket nearby and I filled up my shopping basket with every anti-cancer fruit and vegetable I could think of. I also stocked up on green tea, flaxseeds, chia seeds, peppercorns and loads of other stuff.
When we came home, I began working on my healing. Or more precisely, on the demolition of the remaining cancer mass in my body. I selected a few of the fruits and vegetables I had just purchased. I chopped them up and put them into a blender (think broccoli, blueberries, apples, limes, pineapple, beetroot, guava, and a handful of greens). Then, in went half an inch each of ginger and fresh turmeric, followed by a sprinkling of peppercorns, which helped to power up the turmeric. Next, I tore open a green tea bag and emptied the contents into the blender. The chia and flax seeds went in next. Last but not least, I filled half the blender with alkaline water and some soybean milk. I let it all blend for a minute or so, and downed it all in the span of a few hours. This came under Cancer-beating Nutrition on my notes for what I intended to do in my healing plan. Apart from this particular practice, which I carried out on a daily basis (yes, daily!), I also proceeded to be mindful of what I put into my body from that day onwards. I cut off all forms of processed foods, sugar, and as many artificial ingredients as well as preservatives as I could manage.
Next came Inner Work in my healing plan, which I started that very night, as I was getting ready to go to bed. What I did was sit comfortably at the edge of my bed, and I went into meditation mode. The steps were to simply breathe slowly and with awareness. Once my body was relaxed, I began to imagine a bright light being shone from the top of my head. I imagined that this light was travelling through my body and clearing every unwanted or unhealthy thing on its way. When it reached my cancer mass, I simply imagined that this powerful light was obliterating it. At first, I only practised this at night before bedtime, but as it got easier for me to visualise it, I managed to practise it a couple of times during the day too.
Next up was the part of me radiating Pure, Positive Energy, constantly and continuously. This meant not sweating the little stuff or getting all worked up to the point of feeling stressed out. In my case, it would have been devastatingly dangerous for me if I could not control my emotions or let myself get worked up easily. As we know now, stress is cancer’s best buddy. And let’s not forget that I had in me, a cancer mass that was just waiting for an excuse to come alive again! So, I had to really put my heart and soul into this part of my healing plan, by reminding myself that I must and will radiate only pure, positive energy to the best of my capability. Was it easy? No. Was it impossible? No. Things happened around me all the time. Some things were good, some were not. Whether or not it was going to affect me or bring me down was entirely up to me. I kept telling myself, now and again: “Challenge accepted!”, and I just kept choosing to radiate pure positivity no matter what.
The last part of my healing plan was to find something rewarding to engage in: Engaging in a Worthwhile Project. Hence, I wrote a book. Yes, you read that right - I have completed my very first book and it should be on the bookstands by August 2023! This book of mine journals my unique journey with cancer from diagnosis to beating it..I hope it will serve to inspire many others out there to never give up hope no matter what!
It was somewhere in the third week of August 2021 when I walked into a private hospital with a letter from the cancer centre, requesting that a pap smear under anaesthesia be performed on me. The cancer centre did not perform such procedures, hence I had to get it done somewhere else. The reason why I could not get a regular pap smear was that my vaginal passage was closed up too tight, and it would cause me excruciating pain. The head gynae agreed to it and proceeded to set up an appointment for me. Then, as I thanked him and stood up to leave, he asked me if I cared to undergo an ultrasound scan, just to give him an idea of what I was dealing with, in terms of the cancer mass. I readily agreed, for I too yearned to know what was up with that pesky mass. Following my last MRI just a few months prior, it was still there, although dormant, inactive and slightly reduced in size. I suppose that was quite a difference when compared to when it was first discovered in me - very large and extremely aggressive.
The gynae prepped my abdomen with some scanning gel and began the examination. I waited patiently for his remark, but seconds turned into a minute and more, and he was still silent. After what seemed like an eternity, he just shook his head and said to me, “There isn’t any sign of a cancer mass here. I’ve looked all over the area, and there is nothing here. Oh well, let’s wait to get your pap smear done and we’ll know for sure, shall we?”
I was absolutely dumbfounded! Needless to say, the pap smear results came back negative for any cancerous or precancerous abnormalities, and I was, in the end, cancer free and I remain so even today!
Truthfully, it was not worth the risk, nor the horror of having my life hanging by a thread. There were days of sickening nausea and weeks of depression to deal with. Not forgetting the pains and discomfort to contend with as well. There were times when I felt a total sense of defeat due to the weakness caused by the invasive treatments but what can I say? No matter how much advice we dish out, or warnings we put out there, things happen. And when they do, we have to deal with them!
Our bodies are not built the same. What works for me may not work the same for another, but when push turns to shove, there is absolutely no harm in trying whatever way we can. Am I right?
While I hope my tips will help women out there who find themselves in the same unfortunate place I was a couple of years ago, I’m here to tell you all, dear readers of Speedoc, that nothing beats early detection, and the only way to do that is by having your regular pap smear done without fail. Detect any unwanted changes in your body via this simple clinical procedure and you can rest easy knowing that you are in the clear.
So ladies, have you done your pap smear yet? If not, what are you waiting for?
Book a pap smear screening by Speedoc to be done within the comfort and privacy of your home. Call +6011 4166 1178 today.