Thank God I have Cervical Cancer
It was about 3:00 p.m. on September 15, 2006 when I got the call. I was in the midst of my working day, about to walk into one of my accounts. I worked as a salon consultant for a beauty distribution company at the time.
About a month and a half earlier, I’d had a wink from God take place in my life. While doing a late spring cleaning, I somehow decided my birth control pills had expired. The date read May 2007, and it was only May 2006, but for some reason I thought we were in 2007. So I grabbed the pills and tossed them in the trash. About a month later, as my pack was ending, I looked at the date again and realized what I had done. So I scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist for July and went on with my business.
My GYN found some abnormal cells, which resulted in more tests, more appointments. This in turn led up to the phone call. I sat in the accountant’s parking lot when the call came in: My gynecologist had my biopsy results. Being twenty-two at the time and never having been sick a day in my life, I could not even fathom what she said next. First asking if I was in a place to talk, she told me that I had full-blown cancer developing in me. She said there was nothing more she could do, and I needed to contact a specialist. After giving me his name and number, she wished me good luck. I sat in my car and just about lost feeling in every inch of my body.
The hardest conversation I had was with my sixteen-year-old brother. My heart split right open when tears filled his eyes and he asked me if I was going to die.
That night and the days to follow were a blur. I had to tell my family and my friends. I had to notify my work and make an appointment to see this doctor. Three days later, I sat in his office and awaited my future. He told me that I had cervical cancer, rather large, and that it had invaded both sides. I had only one option — undergo a hysterectomy in nine days. Then based on the results of that, I might proceed into treatment.
Many members of my family have been lost to cancer, so the very word created a large, open wound within my family and me. One of my grandmothers is a survivor of seven years, but the other four members of my family were not so lucky. I remember being twelve and standing by my other grandmother’s hospital bed just moments before she passed. She was in such horrible pain, and we could do nothing. I could feel the wound start to bleed in all of us as the process began.
Those nine days seemed to go by slowly, and my heart broke every time I had a moment with a loved one. The hardest conversation I had was with my sixteen-year-old brother. My heart split right open when tears filled his eyes and he asked me if I was going to die. I grabbed him and told him I was going to be just fine — we had to take it one day at a time. That is what I continued to tell myself as the days passed. It took me a week to tell the man I loved. The strong woman I once knew was scattered and scared to death.
The day of my surgery was an interesting one. I had to be at the hospital at 9:00 a.m. for surgery at 11:00 a.m. My boyfriend, David, and I arrived at the hospital, with him as sick as can be. He was shaking and throwing up. I had no idea what was wrong with him. The whole thing going on with him did take my mind off me. It allowed me to go into caring mode. He was quickly sent to emergency and away from me. A few moments later, they wheeled me into the elevator on a gurney, toward the preparation room. While we were in the elevator, I told my mother not to worry … I would be just fine. She was overwhelmed with tears. I can’t explain the peace that came over me that morning, or the peace that has stayed with me since. It was as if angels’ wings were holding me.
I awoke from surgery to find a tube in my nose and several beeping machines surrounding me. I was freezing cold and couldn’t stop shaking. Shortly after, they wheeled me up to my room, where my sweet mother and family waited for me. David was nowhere to be found. I got a phone call from him about an hour later, saying, “Honey, I was right beside you in the recovery room. I had my appendix removed!” There he was, a floor under me, with the same tummy scars as me.
I remained in the hospital for a week due to the intensity of the surgery. The healing process would be a long one, with more to it than I thought. Having David in the hospital with me those first three days was wonderful. I was so heartbroken about what I had been through and what was going to happen next. His smile gave me hope. It’s interesting how the Universe works. The people who have surrounded me since the beginning are truly earth angels. Three weeks passed, and I was back in my doctor’s office awaiting the news. I was ready to move past this event and get on with my emotional and physical healing. I had to deal with not being able to bear children and the feeling that I had been robbed of my innocence. I was only twenty-two, and what work I had ahead of me!
Well, it wasn’t quite over yet. My doctor informed me that the cancer had spread to the outside tissues, and the only way to ensure that it was gone was with chemotherapy and radiation. At the moment those two words were spoken, I once again lost all feeling in my being. My doctor told me that I was very special and was going to make it through. “Well, okay then,” I said, “but I must go back to work so I can feel normal in some way.” He referred me to a chemotherapy specialist and a radiation center.
My soul burned through my eyes, and I knew it was not ready to go.
I lasted three days on the pills and decided I would rather be in pain.
I returned to work, and about a week later I went in to see the specialist about starting treatment. They performed various scans and tests, and I was ready to get started in a week. In the process of waiting, I continued working while experiencing the most incredible pain in my side. When I returned to start treatment and informed them of this pain, I had no clue what was in store for me. I was soon told, “Your tumor has returned.” In the six weeks since surgery, my tumor had returned and was hitting some nerves on my side. So what now?
I started treatment and put on some heavy-duty pain pills that I could not tolerate. Once again I was not able to work and could barely even sleep. I looked in the mirror and had no idea who stood there. My soul burned through my eyes, and I knew it was not ready to go. I lasted three days on the pills and decided I would rather be in pain. I had chemo once a week for six weeks, while the radiation was daily. After my first treatment, I was hospitalized and told that I had one bad kidney. My ability to continue with the chemo depended on how my kidneys reacted to the treatments. Every treatment was closely monitored.
There were times that I would lie on my bathroom floor and pray to leave my body. I’ve never felt such emotional and physical pain before. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t care for myself. There were times that I was so weak I could barely brush my hair or shower. At the time I was living alone and my mother moved in to care for me. With her help, along with David, and my dear friend Laurie, I made it through all of my treatments.
What I thought was the end of the treatments, I learned was only the middle. I had yet to undergo two internal implants and another five week course of external radiation.
Back to the hospital daily, and two more times being put under for the implants. I cannot find the words to explain how out of control I felt. I had to hand over my body to a medical staff. I had to open up and allow others to care for me. Both are things I had never had to do before. The process of being treated for cancer is an emotional and physical challenge. There were pieces of it that led me to want to leave my body. It truly was as though my soul led me and my body was being dragged along throughout this process.
One day as I walked on the beach outside my home, there was this energy and strength that rose out of the center of my being. It was as if I had awakened from a deep sleep. I realized how blessed I was to have this experience so young. My soul was speaking to me in a way that I could not understand until I was ready to listen. Throughout my treatments, I changed my thoughts and actions. I would dress up to go into my implant surgery and bake for the staff that cared for me the next couple of days. I decided to celebrate my life and become grateful for this experience. I would spend many days and nights alone, looking at my life — looking at who I was and who I wanted to be. I looked at who surrounded me and how beautiful the moments were that we spent together. My heart began to open, and I started to ask what I needed to learn.
This event came into my life to change my direction. It came to teach me something, and all the elements of it were designed especially for me. It was then that my spirit started to sing. I started to nurture myself. During this process I lost twenty-five pounds … they flew right off me. I had also lost all my strength and confidence. It was that day on the beach that I decided to consciously pick up the pieces of Cassandra and put them back together again. In doing this, I was given the opportunity to look at them like I had never seen them before. Every day, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude for every moment and every breath. I started to walk more and laugh more. I started to work out with a group of cancer survivors and patients. I found the “Thank God I … ” project and began to live from my heart and step back to see what a beautiful life I had.
I am writing my story because cancer has changed my life. It has allowed me to go after my dreams, to live from my heart, and to truly be free. I thank God for my cancer and for allowing me to reach a place in myself that I don’t think would have been possible without this experience. I am now twenty-three and feel that I have stepped into my skin proudly. I have felt an inner peace that many don’t find until later in life. I am truly grateful for all my earth angels and want to thank them for sharing with me this wonderful journey.
It is in the moments of complete chaos that the most beautiful clarity comes to us. It is in becoming grateful for everything and loving every piece of it that you start to hear the truth. It is in that piece of frozen time that you can look back and see who you are. In the midst of this illness, which I was convinced would remove me from my physical body, I have come to embrace my body and feel comfort in it like never before. Learning to be grateful for this illness as it was happening to me, through every stage, has truly transformed me.
This “Thank God I … ” project has inspired me because it helped me remember to be grateful throughout my illness. It reminded me that I am here to heal others and to share what I have learned. As I am coming to a close of this process called “Cancer,” I see how it was exactly what I needed to become Cassandra. It has allowed me to love every inch of myself, and in doing that I can love every inch of you. I can appreciate and know that we all have our journeys and processes, but all serve and come for a reason. I thank God for my Cancer and for the opportunity to step into my new skin, skin that I wear proudly and cannot wait to share with you!
Peace and many blessings to each and every one of you.
Our Loving Angel CASSANDRA ANN GATZOW
April 24, 1984 to November 28, 2007
On November 28th at age 23, Cassandra Ann, our beautiful angel, completed her journey on this earth. In September of 2006, Cassandra was diagnosed with cervical cancer and continued her teaching of life throughout this painful experience. Cassandra has touched the lives of everyone she met through her generous, spirit of love, grace, and gratitude. She sees magic in every soul and values and respects all. Her spirit will be reflected forever in all of us that she has loved. Cassandra was an amazing part of the initial formation of ThankGodi…Her genuine open hearted gratitude for her cervical cancer as it was literally taking her life at age 23 is a beacon for us all.
Cassandra shines through her loving and nurturing mother Christine Rivera, her best friend and soul companion David Baumann, her two younger brothers Christopher and Nathan, her large beloved family, and an abundance of great friends. She will be missed dearly, but her light will forever inspire all of our souls. She walked on land knowi ng who she was, Love and Compassion at its deepest… Beauty and Wisdom at its highest… Peace and Serenity at its brightest… Forgiveness and Sincerity at its finest –