Finding joy after facing cervical cancer twice
How one woman embraced life, marriage and motherhood after a grim diagnosis
January 14, 2022
Five years ago, Christine Granado was living happily in New Jersey with her fiancé and 9-year-old son, but she felt something wasn’t right.
In the span of a year, she lost three pregnancies. The first miscarriage came as a total shock. With the second, she felt confused. After the third, she was afraid something was terribly wrong even though her doctor didn’t seem worried. Her instinct ultimately led her to get a second opinion and look for a new OB-GYN.
An ultrasound uncovered a cervical polyp. Granado followed up with a pelvic and abdominal MRI, a scan that produces detailed images of the organs and tissues in the body, which showed a mass on the cervix and enlarged lymph nodes in the pelvis. A PET/CT scan, which produces images of the metabolic activity of organs and tissues and detect areas of disease indicating a potential health problem, was worrisome. A cervical biopsy confirmed squamous cell cancer of the cervix, which was stage IIB, with lymphatic spread. At just 28, Christine felt disbelief upon hearing the diagnosis.
“How can I have cancer at this age?” she asked herself. “I remember peeking through my bangs, feeling like I was trying to hide behind them.”
Granado wasn’t alone in asking herself that question. Younger women (cervical cancer is ranked in the top three cancers affecting women younger than 45 years in most countries) are more likely to develop cervical cancer. In 2020, it was estimated that more than 604,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and more than 341,000 women died from the disease. Screenings may help to detect cervical changes before they become cancerous. In several countries where screenings are routinely conducted, the incidence rates of cervical cancer have decreased by 50% or more over the past 50 years.
Granado started chemotherapy as soon as possible. She was prepared for physical side effects but was overwhelmed by the psychological changes that soon followed, including how she felt about losing her fertility. She and her partner discussed preserving her eggs but decided against it as doing so would have delayed her treatment.
Granado’s cancer went into remission for three years, and she found joy again: She got married and decided to have a baby via surrogate.
The cancer returns
Then, during the final months of surrogacy, Granado started having unexplained chest pains. A CT scan found enlarged lymph nodes. She was diagnosed with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma.
“When I got the recurrence diagnosis, I was devastated. It was hard to hear, but it motivated me to finish things, to contact a lawyer and get things in my kids’ names – to think about life after me,” she said.
It also motivated her to continue with more treatments. During her second round of chemo, Granado was able to welcome her new son. When she saw him, she took him in her arms: “I bawled my eyes out.”
A focus on mental health
In addition to her son’s arrival, Granado says a focus on mental health has sharpened her resolve to live her best life. When the cancer came back, she grieved for her life. She would cry and sleep all day. Her depression stopped her from enjoying precious time with her family.
“The most disabling thing I dealt with was the depression,” she said. “There were days when I would feel physically OK, but I’d still stay in bed all day.” Thankfully, Granado had the support of a psychologist and a psychiatrist who helped her feel well again.
Choosing to live her best life
Granado has been able to complete a master’s degree in health leadership, and her family has a new border collie named Harry. Even everyday activities like going to the hardware store or winding down with a book mean so much more now. She appreciates the small details, like watching TV with her son on the couch.
“Life has been amazingly boring,” she says. “In a good way.”
Granado says she hopes her story will inspire women and give them hope that there’s so much life to be lived – including the boring moments – in the face of a cancer diagnosis.