Snapshots: Steph Ferrie
Two years ago, in the middle of a coastal Maine summer, Stephanie Ferrie was training for a triathlon. An avid runner, she chalked up the slight changes in her body, including unusual discharge, as merely hormonal. Summer turned to fall and her symptoms persisted. As the whispers of her body grew louder, she finally made an appointment with her OB-GYN. A mother of four, Stephanie never had an abnormal pap smear or tested positive for HPV. “My doctor put the speculum in and saw a mass on my cervix, 3 centimeters, right there,” said Stephanie.
The biopsy revealed cervical cancer caused by HPV. Fortunately, the resulting PET scan showed the tumor was only in her cervix. The choice now turned to the course of treatment. Guided by a close friend who faced similar choices many years ago, Stephanie made the decision for a radical hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix). The final pathology showed early metastasis to a lymph node in her groin, which resulted in an additional five low-dose chemotherapy sessions and 28 rounds of radiation. “[My friend] made me feel so good about it that I wasn’t even scared. Plus, my cervix was a pain with four kids anyway!” she joked.
The crisp fall air turned to the darkening days of winter and six weeks of treatment for cervical cancer. “It was all very surreal,” said Stephanie. After the hysterectomy, chemotherapy followed to desensitize cells in preparation for radiation. “Tuesdays were four hours of uninterrupted girlfriend time,” Stephanie reflected. “Every week [of chemotherapy] was just for me.”
Humor and positivity is imbedded in the fabric of her family’s outlook on life. “I wanted my kids to see that life can suck and still be awesome.” The diagnosis propelled Stephanie to assertively challenge her body, traversing the spring and summer months with a slew of half marathons and triathlons, including Maine Cancer Foundation’s Tri for a Cure. “I used the cancer as fuel to get even stronger. I couldn’t sit back and let it dictate my life.”
Stephanie finished treatment and is now cancer free. Her new regimen includes a pelvic exam every three months to look for abnormalities. Her oldest daughter will be 12 next year and heading to the doctor for her first HPV vaccine. When her other three children are of age, including her son, they will follow in their sister’s footsteps. “[The vaccine] prevents cancer,” said Stephanie. Next year will also bring new tides: a year of sailing in the Caribbean. “It’s given us a kick,” said Stephanie. “We’re going to do it all.”
Cervical cancer is preventable with the HPV vaccination. Thank you to Stephanie for sharing her story.
Fast Facts about HPV:
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer – one of the leading causes of cancer death for women in the US.
Vaccination against HPV protects against 6 different types of cancers that can develop in both men and women.
The HPV vaccine is for both boys and girls.
Talk to your doctor about vaccinating your 11-12 year old sons and daughters against HPV.
Every year in the United States, 31,000 women and men are diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV infection. Most of these cancers could be prevented by HPV vaccination.
Less than half of Maine boys and girls have been vaccinated against HPV. [Note: 51% of girls have been vaccinated, 40% of boys have been vaccinated]