When Amy Jordan experienced some symptoms common to cervical cancer, she didn’t recognize them at first. Still, she hoped her annual gynecological exam would put her mind at ease.
“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” the 45-year-old founder and CEO of WundaBar, a Pilates studio in New York City and California, told TODAY. “I went in for a regular appointment.”
But her doctor immediately knew something was wrong: Jordan had a 5-centimeter mass on her cervix. Soon, she learned she had a rare, aggressive cervical cancer. While it seemed bleak, Jordan recently received good news: After five months of treatment, she’s cancer-free.
“I had just completed my 90th hour of chemotherapy, was two months post-op and about to wrap 25 daily radiation sessions. I am sharing these very personal photos with you to normalize illness and the start of a human's journey back to health. I didn't want to forget how hard I fought or how sick I was,” she shared on Instagram. “I hope this glimpse into the pain that can co-exist with gratitude helps bring more empathy and understanding to the world.”
Common symptoms can indicate cancer
Women with cervical cancer often experience:
- Vaginal discharge
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after sex
But sometimes discharge or bleeding are normal, making it tough for people to understand when they need to see a doctor. That’s why the U.S. Preventative Task Force, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American Cancer Society recommend that people with cervixes undergo regular screening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a common virus transmitted during sex, and usually causes no symptoms.
Almost immediately after Jordan’s doctor noticed the mass, she met with an oncologist. Even the doctors were stunned when they learned that Jordan had small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the cervix. According to MD Anderson Cancer Center only about 100 cases of the 11,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in a year will be small or large cell cancers.
“It is really, really rare,” Jordan said. “My oncologist had looked me in the eye and said, ‘There is no reason why you should have gotten this.’”
But they devised a hard-hitting treatment plan.
“My oncologist said, ‘This is really rare and aggressive and we have to throw everything at it,'” Jordan recalled. “‘We are aiming for a cure.’”
The size of the tumor was too large for surgery. So, Jordan first went through three sessions of chemotherapy, totaling 15 hours. Then she had a radical hysterectomy, where a surgeon removes the uterus, cervix and part of the vagina, followed by radiation then several weeks with both radiation and chemotherapy.
“The last three weeks were unspeakable,” Jordan said. “I was so sick.”
She mentioned to her doctors that it seemed like they had “pushed her to the brink of death.” They said the treatment needed to be so rigorous to clear her of cancer.
“They just had to really make sure that this never had an opportunity to come back,” she said.
While she lost 15 pounds, lost her hair and had a lot of “dark” moments, being in shape from her years as a Pilates teacher helped her.
“I went in as strong and as healthy as I could be,” Jordan said. “It gave (my doctors) the ability to attack the cancer really aggressively.”
Jordan was also emotionally strong, which is certainly something she needed when things felt tough.
“To lose time with your children, to lose the work that you are passionate about, to lose the ability to see people, I was in solitary confinement during my surgery,” she said. “You are very alone and you are left to go inward and you better find some strength in there.”
She had a group of friends who “carried her” and helped with things, such as grocery shopping or simply listening. And, they’d chide her when she exerted herself too much.
“When I was in this really painful and just awful place of illness, I always resisted being sick,’” she said. “My friends would be like, ‘What are you doing? … Lay down.'”
Jordan was surprised by all the lessons she learned. While she worried that her children, ages 7 and 9, would feel frightened, she soon realized they weren’t. There were tears when they couldn’t spend time with their mom, but she watched them grow.
“This is a gift from the process that I didn’t expect to be a gift,” she said. “It has taught them so much resiliency and empathy.”
When she finished treatment on Nov. 11 and knew she was cancer-free she asked her friend Gregory Zabilski to take photos of her. She wanted to remember, but also to encourage acceptance of illness.
“I really did want to share what cancer does to a body,” she said. “I want to normalize having a health crisis. I wanted to normalize not having hair … That part of the journey is hidden. We know people get sick, but they wear a wig or cover up their scars or just don’t show this part of the path.”
Jordan also hopes to share her recovery process. While she's tried to exercise, even if it was just walking for 10 minutes, she noticed she’s weaker. Just the other day, she stumbled attempting a pose she could have “done six months ago with my eyes closed.”
“What an opportunity to share this rebuilding,” she said. “I am very happy I have the opportunity to understand what it is like to start from scratch. It is going to make me more empathetic.”