At 43 years old, Heidi Dupont-De Lancy is living her best life.
Her bright smile and bubbly personality are both infectious. It’s hard to believe just three-and-a-half years ago the mother of four was diagnosed with stage 3B cervical cancer.
The journey was a long and at times trying one, but for the most part, Dupont-De Lancy is grateful that she is alive and well.
As part of her contribution to raising awareness during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, which will be observed from January 21-27, she shared her story from being diagnosed to beating cervical cancer with Guardian Media.
Q: How did you find out you had cervical cancer?
A: I found out I had stage 3B cervical cancer after my gynaecologist discovered a growth in my cervix during an examination. A biopsy was done and the results confirmed it was cancer.
Was there something unusual you noticed, which made you visit your doctor?
Prior to finding out I had cancer, I frequently experienced pain on the right side of my pelvic area. The pain would seem to travel down my right leg, I also experienced constant fatigue, which affected my ability to work. I visited a few doctors with my complaints searching for relief from this pain and extreme tiredness but to no avail, at one time I felt like just giving up. In my quest for answers, I prayed and asked God to help me to find a doctor who could tell me what was wrong with me. I subsequently visited a lab and requested to have various types of blood tests done. It was there I met the lab technician who referred me to the doctor who discovered I had cervical cancer.
What were your immediate thoughts and feelings after the diagnosis?
I immediately started to cry. I felt a rush of despair and wondered if I was going to die. But eventually, those thoughts and feelings subsided, with the words from my doctor, “Cancer is not a death sentence. I am going to slay that demon.” My disposition was instantly changed and I began to laugh. My doctor’s confidence and assurance that I was going to be okay, gave me confidence as well and I left his office with a smile. No one would have ever known, a few minutes earlier I discovered I had cancer.
Before your diagnosis, did you know anything about cervical cancer?
I had a fair amount of knowledge about cervical cancer. But I also had some inaccurate information as well. In any case, I never thought I would have to actually make it my “personal” business.
Tell us about treatment. How long did you have to take it and what did it entail?
My surgery was completed approximately two weeks after diagnosis. The surgery performed on me was a radical hysterectomy. This surgery entailed removing my entire reproductive system. Exactly a month after surgery I started chemotherapy, which I did every 21 days for approximately five months. For the first three days after having a chemotherapy session, I would feel strong and normally go out and enjoy myself or go to the beach and just relax. But in days to come, I would be bedridden because of extreme weakness. My hair started falling out on the second session of chemotherapy. After chemotherapy, I started radiation treatment every day, five days a week, for three weeks.
What was it like for your family finding out you had cancer?
At first, they were worried, but the more confident I remained about beating it, the calmer they became. I believe it also helped when my doctor told them that I was in good hands. Their support played a pivotal role in me getting well.
How would you say your diagnosis changed your life for the better?
It helped me develop my strength and courage. It also created the opportunity for me to spend a lot more alone time with God. It also made me aware how very unpredictable and short life is and we must never take our health and life for granted.
As a survivor, for a woman now finding out she has cervical cancer, what would you say to her?
I would tell her, the first thing she needed to do was find a good doctor. I would then tell her what my doctor told me, “Don’t worry, we will beat this demon.” I would encourage her to pay closer attention to her health when it was all over. And I would also encourage her to have faith that she would recover. I honestly believe worrying hinders the healing and recovery process.
Do you feel enough is being done to bring about cervical cancer awareness?
I don’t think so. You tend to hear more about breast cancer. I have discovered while talking to many of people about my diagnosis, most people do not know the cause of cervical cancer or how it could be prevented. I also discovered a lot of people do not know there is immunisation for the disease and the ages you can have it administered. I was told prior to my diagnosis that I had crossed the age to be immunised, only to subsequently discover from my doctor this was not true.
Have you started any activism of your own to bring about awareness?
As a survivor working in the field of selling insurance, I use the opportunity of meeting people to share my story to bring about awareness.
On this journey, what was the most important lesson learned?
It’s a few lessons actually. Not to take anything for granted, especially life, love me more and always be grateful to God.