Six years ago, Becky Lyle, from Portland, had an abnormal Pap test. Her next one came back normal, so she didn’t worry.
Three years later, at the age of 30, Becky became pregnant with her first child. She looked forward to the “glow of pregnancy” but instead, felt miserable, and in her second trimester, started bleeding.
Her doctor discovered a polyp in her cervix, but said they were common and 99 percent of the time benign. Becky’s polyp turned out to be malignant. Because it needed to be treated, the decision was made to deliver her baby early by C-section. Gianna Lyle was born Nov. 4, 2011.
“A beautiful, healthy, spunky baby girl,” says Becky.
A beautiful baby girl whom she believes saved her life.
“Gianna is why I am alive today,” Becky says. “I will be forever grateful for her and grateful to be a mom, a wife and a daughter.”
Instead of long days and nights cuddling her new baby, Becky had to deal with her cancer. After being told she would need a hysterectomy, she and her husband Daren decided to get a second opinion. As a result, they opted to have only the tumor removed, along with surrounding tissue and lymph nodes, which, thankfully, showed no signs of cancer.
“The hardest part for me was the emotional part,” Becky says. “You’re young and you’re starting a family and then you hear the word cancer.”
While her Pap test didn’t show any cancer cells, it’s likely that abnormal cells would have shown up on a followup Pap test. It’s not foolproof, but when the test was first introduced in the 1940s, cancer of the cervix was the No. 1 cancer killer of women. Between 1955 and 1992, the cervical cancer death rate declined by almost 70 percent and continues to decline.
“From 1995 through 2010, there was a 38 percent decrease in the number of Maine women being diagnosed with cervical cancer,’’ says Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control.
Pap tests are recommended every three years for average-risk women between the ages of 21 and 65. Beginning at age 30, HPV (human papilloma virus) testing is also recommended.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, according to the CDC. It’s estimated that up to 75 percent of sexually active people will get it at some point in their lives. There are about 100 strains of HPV and most of the time the body’s immune system can fight off an infection without any problems. Some strains are considered high risk because they’ve been linked to several cancers, including cervical cancer.
The HPV test can pick up more than a dozen high-risk strains of HPV. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines to protect again certain types of HPV. They are given as a series of three shots over six months. The CDC recommends them for preteen girls and boys at 11 or 12 years of age before they become sexually active.
Becky also has some recommendations: Always get the most information you can about your health. Ask questions. Get a second opinion. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support. Her support came from her husband, family, friends and the Cancer Community Center in South Portland. She’s now a “buddy” and helps support other people who have just been diagnosed with cancer.
Three years have passed since her diagnosis and Becky remains cancer-free. On July 25, 2014, she gave birth to her second child a healthy baby boy named Griffin. She says her life is filled with gratitude:
“I am healthy today and was able to preserve my fertility to have another child because I got a second opinion,” she said.
“I am so thankful for my doctor and together we decided on the best course of treatment. It never hurts to educate yourself and exhaust all resources possible when it comes to your health.”