Kara Million was getting a routine checkup when the doctors noticed something and said they needed to take a biopsy. Then they told her to come back in later that day, and to bring her husband. It couldn’t have been good news.
“I knew something wasn’t right,” Million said.
With her husband’s hand in her’s, they sat together before the doctor. She had cancer.
In 2009, Million was diagnosed with cervical cancer, with a 50 percent survival rate.
“I will never forget that day—our world turned upside down,” Million said.
Million went home and pasted a smile on her face to play with her children, all the time thinking, “My children were going to grow up without their mother.”
Her cancer was caused by HPV, and she hadn’t even heard about it until just five years ago, when she had a well woman exam in 2004. At the time, her gynecologist asked her if she wanted to be tested for it, and she said yes, because she was already there and might as well.
She had no symptoms, but she had tested positive for strands of the virus linked to cervical cancer. Her doctor assured her she was okay, but should take an exam for it every half year to keep an eye on it. Everything went on just fine—in 2006 she had her son, and in 2008 she had her daughter. As a busy mom, she didn’t always have an exam every six months.
But when she went in for the check up in 2009, they found stage 3 cancer.
No one close to her had to deal with cancer before. Her concept of cancer was hair loss, sickness, weakness, death.
Million felt hopeless.
She and her husband set up an appointment at the nearby MD Anderson, which was both world-renowned and specialized in cancer treatment.
The specialists, doctors, and medical team members exuded such positivity and compassion that Million felt that optimism too. She started her six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, followed by internal radiation.
“I took the first three weeks like a champ!” she remembered. “Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.”
The next few weeks weren’t so easy. In fact, they were painful to the point that she was brought to tears. “I was taking diarrhea medicine like it was candy. But I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The treatments soon concluded, the tumor was no longer visible, and life resumed.
But months later, the tumor was back in the same place—and things were much worse.
Million learned she would need dramatic surgery—a total pelvic exenteration.
“This involved removing my uterus, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes and vagina, as well as my bladder and part of my colon, rectum and intestines,” she said.
Of course, Million was terrified. Her doctor introduced her to a woman who had gone through the same surgery Million would need, so she could make a better informed decision.
“As soon as I saw her, I knew it was going to be okay,” Million said.
Million had the surgery. Recovery was long, and it was hard, but with the love and support of her family, Million got through it once again.
Million’s cancer had been caused by HPV, so she wanted to do something so that her children would not have to go through what she did.
“[It’s] a virus that affects 8 out of every 10 people in the United States some point in their lives,” Million learned. While it mostly causes harmless infections, some strains of HPV turn into deadly cancers.
She was resolved that her children would be vaccinated from the virus, and that she would use her story to raise awareness.
“Knowing that there is a vaccine to protect my children against HPV brings me hope,” she said, “so that they never have to endure what I went through.”