COLORADO SPRINGS — In this Your Healthy Family we are following up on a recent story about cervical cancer awareness, and the importance of knowing the symptoms. This form of cancer often robs young women of the chance to have children, and potentially of their life.
It’s a reality Colorado Springs wife and mother Amber Appleton knows firsthand. Amber says, “Looking back - I'm not really even sure if I really knew the magnitude of what I was about to experience - I knew I heard ‘cancer,’ and I'm looking down at my pregnant belly and thinking - ‘I need to make sure I stay alive for me, for her, for my family and bring her into this world healthy.’ Then I knew I had to fight - real hard after she came into the world to make sure all that happened.”
It wasn't exactly the best time for a cancer diagnosis – Amber was 8 months pregnant - but the outcome was what medical experts hope for.
Dr. Dirk Pikaart, who specializes in gynecologic oncology at UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, says “Amber's story is good because it’s a success, that's what we fight for. We caught her cancer early enough to cure it, and we caught it in spite of a pregnancy. We were able to treat that and preserve her pregnancy.”
Amber recalls that her decision to carry her child to term and delay her treatment took only seconds as the weight of the news sank in and the road ahead was explained to her by Dr. Pikaart. “He sat there and had all the patience in the world to help me make this decision. He gave me a lot of information and was very detailed about what this could all look like, and that was helpful for me.”
What followed was close care and many long and sleepless nights until Amber delivered her third child, a daughter named Everly. Amber says she is her miracle baby.
After a few short weeks to heal and enjoy her new arrival, it was time for Amber to plunge into a difficult treatment journey and effort to save her life.
Amber says, “It was all done in a four-month span. It started off with the first procedure of hopefully removing most of the cancerous cells, but it didn’t. We then had to schedule a hysterectomy right away. A few weeks after that we found lymph activity, and within a few weeks I had to start chemo and radiation, which was really difficult.”
Amber says the hardest part of going through it all was the physical separation with little Everly. “I couldn't lay down a lot through my treatment, I had to sit so I sat in a chair a lot. I couldn't move, I couldn't hold my daughter. I remember going through chemo and looking over and being so grateful for my mom, because she stayed up late nights feeding my newborn daughter, so my husband could go to work and my kids could go to school. I’m so grateful that I had her support through that.”
Now cancer-free, Amber says she enjoys life and her family on a new level. She has also been named a regional spokeswoman for a cancer survivor group called Cervivor (cervivor.org) and works to help other women who have to travel the same challenging path she has.
Amber says, “I remember starting to write things down. I hate journaling. It’s not something I enjoy at all. But I knew if I didn't do that I would lose some of these moments of clarity that I had. Getting documentation and finding resources, that's how I found Cervivor and through it all I was like, ‘Why didn't I know this sooner?’ That's what I'm trying to do: Get the information out there and educate people to not be afraid to talk about your body. Women tend to get busy - it’s what mothers do. We put ourselves last. I'm a working mom and I'm just as guilty of that so I just want to be a voice for women. My focus is to let women know that setting those appointments for your exams, going and talking about it - don't be afraid. It's not a time to be prideful. That is one thing I notice a lot with women and young girls is there is this thing about not talking about your body and that shouldn’t be talked about in public. That's why people are suffering and dying and being misinformed - because they're not talking about it and they're not sharing. I really like to allow people to hear what I went through. I'm a pretty open book and I’m transparent about what happened and I think that's going to help other people.”
For more on Amber's story look for this weekend's Brie and Baby Three Vlog, where Brie and Amber share a mom to mom perspective on the emotions of Amber’s cancer journey.
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