By Sadie Fowler
Renee Yarbrough is a sweet, kind and gentle person with a tenacious spirit — especially when it comes to sharing her story and struggles she faces daily with her battle against cervical cancer — and it’s an important topic to discuss this month.
Yarbrough, a stay-at-home mom to two teenage boys, Dalton and Gavin, has been married to her wonderful husband James for 23 years. She is a typical happy mom: She loves spending time with her mom and friends, beach vacations, and enjoys reading, writing and making bracelets. She is also a seven-year survivor of cervical cancer.
“I was diagnosed in 2011 with an abnormal pap smear,” she said, adding her very first doctor at
MMC was Dr. Colleen Bratsch. “I had had a few of those in the past so it didn’t come as a big surprise.”
Dr. Bratsch decided, based on Yarbrough’s previous history, to take some biopsy samples of her
cervix and to follow up in four months as opposed to the typical six months. Yarbrough went back to see her doctor in December of 2011 and that pap came back abnormal as well, which led to more biopsy samples.
“A couple of weeks later I was called into Dr.Bratsch’s office and told that I had cervical cancer and would be referred to a gynecological oncologist in Nashville for a surgery consult,” she said. “I was scheduled for a radical hysterectomy in February of 2012.”
Yarbrough underwent the surgery and it was thought they had gotten all of the cancer but pathology reports six weeks later showed cancer cells were very well in her bloodstream. She learned then that she would have to undergo both chemotherapy and radiation — seven and 35 rounds, respectively.
“I had 17 partial bowel obstructions from the radiation aftereffects,” she said. “I underwent 40 treatments in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber to try and correct the intestinal issues because I wasn’t a surgical candidate because of the amount of damage. I developed lymphedema in my legs due to the lymph node dissection during my cancer surgery.”
It was a tough journey to say the least. To date, she’s had two surgeries to try to help with the issues from that disease as well and she is scheduled for a third surgery consult.
“Things are better now as far as my quality of life,” she said. “I remain positive that only good things are on the horizon for me. All of my post op pap smears have been clear and I wake up each day just happy to be cancer free!”
Yarbrough continues to be under the care of her gyno-oncologist and her primary care giver from Murfreesboro Medical Clinic, Dr. Nicholas Cote.
“He is my hero and my biggest advocate for a happy healthy life,” she said, finding comfort in his loyalties as a provider. “He is never more than a phone call or email away for help! He truly cares about the well-being of his patients. Whenever I have had infections that could have very well sent me to the ER, he has been there to assess me and take care of the issues in his office. He is so awesome!”
There are so many misconceptions when it comes to cervical cancer, such as how you get it or what can be done once you’ve been told you have a disease caused by a virus that you can get a vaccine to prevent. In reality, cervical cancer is 100 percent curable if it’s caught early enough.
“I am a big advocate about women getting yearly pap exams. It only takes a few minutes to see your gynecologist and save your own life,” she said. “The HPV virus is the main culprit in about 80 percent of cervical cancers. I always advise people to research the HPV virus, the ways it is transmitted and how ridiculous the stigma is behind the virus itself.”
Most importantly, Yarbrough encourages everyone she possibly can to get the vaccine if at all possible.
“Our children, whether male or female, can be protected from ever having to experience the horrible effects of cervical, oral, anal, and or penile cancers typically caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is very common for anyone from the ages of 14 and up to have some strain of the HPV virus and not even know it.”
A lot of the strains of HPV will clear on their own but there are some that will not. Yearly exams and vaccinating is key, she believes.
“The vaccine, Gardasil, can help protect you or your children before you are ever exposed to the virus,” she said. “The vaccine is available up to the age of 26 but can be given up to the age of 45 though the benefits after a certain age go down because most have already been exposed to the virus.”
Like all vaccines, there are side effects; most are mild and definitely not life threatening. Both of Yarbrough’s sons have received the vaccine and neither experienced any side effects at all. The benefits of the HPV Gardasil vaccine far outweigh any potential risk of side effects.
“I will be the first to tell you, the emotional, mental and physical trauma that your family and loved ones suffer watching you go through fighting this disease has everlasting effects and the worry never goes away,” she said.
Please talk to your doctor and your children’s pediatrician about the Gardasil vaccine and the benefits of it.
“Please ladies, get your yearly exams!” she encouraged, showing her passionate spirit. “There are people in your life that love you, need you and depend on you. We need you happy and healthy!”
Yarbrough loves spreading the message and considers herself the lucky one. In fact, her final quote for this piece was ‘Peace out and much love to all! … #iamtheluckyone!”