Two years ago, in the middle of a coastal Maine summer, Stephanie Colotti 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.”
One of the perks of our jobs at Maine Cancer Foundation is giving donations from our supporters to cancer programs and organizations statewide. We are currently accepting applications for two open grant areas: patient navigation and general operating grants.
For the month of June, Maine Cancer Foundation is discussing human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. Did you know screening tests can find abnormal cells before they turn into cancer? Check out the fun and simple infographic below from our friends at the CDC.
Maine Cancer Foundation Board Member Dana Lesniak spends her day job as Project Manager at Portland Webworks. In addition to serving on the Foundation’s Board of Directors, she is a participant in the Tri for a Cure. Dana has raised thousands of dollars for cancer prevention and early detection, screening, and access to care, for Mainers across the state.