Diane Kae of Delran, N.J., is creative and energetic, and easily admits to having a "type-A personality."
As busy as life has always been for her, when it came to routine health care, she was "a total do-goody": She made time for regular checkups with her doctor, went every six months to the dentist, and saw a gynecologist for annual exams and tests.
After receiving a call in December 2003 that her last Pap smear, performed a month earlier, was abnormal, she made an appointment to have a biopsy done in January 2004, after the holidays were over. Her doctor reassured her that it was probably "the big nothing."
Kae can still recall the day — Feb. 4, 2004 — when she got the call that would change her life.
She was in a meeting at work when her cell phone rang. Expecting her test results, Kae went out to the hallway and was given the diagnosis from her doctor — invasive cervical cancer.
Kae noted that it felt like she was having "an out-of-body experience" when she was told.
Her cancer was found to be deeper up in the cervix, which is probably why her diagnosis came so late despite her annual exams. Her cancer was at Stage 1B2 — meaning that the cancer is larger than four centimeters — at the time of her diagnosis.
"It was probably there for 10 years," she said, even though she had no symptoms. "I thought, 'Damn it! I did everything right.' "
Kae said that she still gets emotional when discussing how she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and when describing her struggle through radiation and chemotherapy while she continued with her career as director of continuing education at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Through it all, she was open about her experiences with the disease and her treatment, and now offers support and resources to her friends — even strangers — who come to her after their own cancer diagnoses.
She has posted her cancer experience on her Web site — dianekae.com/big_no.html — under a section titled "The Big Nothing," after what her doctor first told her; the section is accompanied by a graphic of a teal-and-white ribbon, the colors for cervical cancer.
Kae, now 56, has been free of the disease for three years. Despite some treatment-related issues and residual side effects, she said that she's doing quite well, although with every ache and pain, she admitted to wondering if it is the cancer returning.
If there is any way a person can avoid going through what she experienced, Kae suggested to do it. She said that she hopes others read her story, and take time to go to the doctor, and become better educated about their bodies and be aware of any relevant health histories.
"Be proactive and listen to your body," Kae advised, "and be open in dialogue with your doctors."