Cervical Cancer Survivor Encourages Women to Take Control of Their Health

January 26, 2015

Paula Horn, 54, is a proud health advocate, successful business professional in Statesboro, Georgia, a wife and a mother.  Among her many accomplishments and roles, the one she is most proud of is being a two-year cancer survivor.

Like many busy working mothers in Georgia, Horn always made time to handle the fast-moving parts of her life and often put her personal needs aside.  It wasn’t until she experienced unexplained changes in her body that she began to realize the importance of making her own health and wellness a priority.

For more than a month, Horn lived with the symptoms of cervical cancer, mistaking them to be typical symptoms of the aging female body.

“I had ongoing bleeding for weeks,” she said.  “In my mind, I thought I was going through menopause. As the symptoms continued to worsen, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I knew something in my body wasn’t right.”

During an appointment she scheduled after realizing the severity of her symptoms, Horn’s gynecologist conducted a pap smear and found a mass on her cervix.   After additional ultrasounds, an appointment with an oncologist and a biopsy of the mass, Horn’s doctors confirmed her diagnosis of stage 2 cervical cancer on June 4, 2013.  

As outlined by the National Cancer Institute, during stage 2, the cancer has spread beyond the cervix but not to the tissues that line the part of the body between the hips.

“My cancer diagnosis completely changed my life,” Horn said.  “I must admit, I was not very good about scheduling routine appointments because I had a fear of doctors. The situation made me realize the importance of women getting pap smears and being more aware of their health needs on a consistent basis.”

Horn’s doctors immediately constructed her cancer plan, including 25 radiation treatments and five chemotherapy treatments.  Typical cervical cancer treatments such as Horn’s often include a combination of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, later followed by a hysterectomy depending on the severity and spread of the cancer.  With the collaboration among her medical team, Horn’s treatments were successful and allowed her to avoid having a hysterectomy as she had initially expected. 

“After completing my treatments, a group of doctors alongside my oncologist and radiation oncologist made the decision that I would have five internal radiation treatments instead of having a hysterectomy,” Horn said. “I felt so happy once all of my treatments were completed. Soon after, I received a call on Jan. 25, 2014 from my doctors telling me that I was free of cancer.”

During her treatment process, Horn found support from a wide community of people that were all invested in seeing her swift return to health.

“I’m grateful to have had the expertise of amazing doctors during my journey,” Horn said. “They reassured me I was strong enough to endure my fight with cancer. I also relied on my faith and the support of my husband as my primary caregiver. I also wrote in my journal regularly, read spiritual healing books and listened to calming music.”

This past weekend on Jan. 25, 2015, Horn celebrated her two-year anniversary of being cancer free with close friends and family.  When reflecting on her journey, the biggest lesson that comes to mind is being proactive about her health and remaining attentive to her body – a lesson she wants to impart to other women.  

“So often, women may think they are not facing symptoms of cancer or other ailments. Then, when something changes in your body, you may have waited too long to handle it,” Horn said.  “It is so important to take care of your body proactively; we know our bodies better that anyone else. If there is something out of the norm, don't hesitate to get it checked out – you don’t want to learn about your health status too late.”

Horn also wants to use her cervical cancer experience to inspire other women to be proactive about their cervical health.  Although her cervical cancer was not connected to the human papillomavirus (HPV), she realizes the importance of proactive preventative methods women can seek to ensure their cervical health.

HPV vaccines are provided in a series of three doses over the course of six months to protect against HPV infections.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that both preteen girls and boys receive the HPV vaccination to ensure their long-term protection.

“My cervical cancer did not develop due to HPV; however, I certainly recommend that young adult women consider getting the HPV vaccine along with routine screening that can help you identify cervical cancer,” said Horn.  “I can't stress enough the importance of doing these things. If I had taken better care of myself, maybe I wouldn’t have gone through all this. However, I hope my story will inspire other women to take control of their health now rather than later.”

To learn more about cervical cancer and treatment options, visit the National Cancer Institute online.  For more information HPV and vaccination options, visit the CDC at www.cdc.gov/hpv/WhatIsHPV.html

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Orginally published Jan. 09, 2012