Cricket Correa is a teacher. In August 2011, after returning to work after summer break, she began experiencing frequent headaches.
“My vision was affected, and I struggled to read PowerPoint presentations at our meetings,” Cricket said. “Even with a change in eyeglasses, the headaches became more frequent and intense.”
Cricket examined her diet, her stress level, and the aftereffects of grief. Her mom had died earlier in the year. In December, she had her annual physical.
Cricket mentioned the headaches to her primary care doctor and began keeping a headache log. An MRI was suggested to determine the cause.
“I also had gained weight around my middle, which I did not mention as I attributed this to my lethargy from the headaches and a post-menopausal weight shift,” Cricket explained. “By the time I returned to the doctor to follow up in January, the headaches were intensifying.”
Cricket’s doctor prescribed migraine medication. It didn’t provide relief.
At the school where Cricket taught, administrators had Cricket’s classroom check for mold. They also thought her headaches could be a reaction to cleaning chemicals.
Then, one day after Cricket took her migraine medication she became dizzy and faint at work. Her blood pressure dropped dangerously low. An ambulance was called.
When Cricket returned to work, a persistent colleague wouldn’t let Cricket wait to see her primary care doctor at her next scheduled appointment in two weeks. “She had me call the doctor from her office that day and reschedule sooner,” Cricket said.
By this time, Cricket also began feeling pressure on her bladder and was spotting. Her doctor referred her to a gynecologist, who did an ultrasound and a biopsy. After the biopsy, Cricket felt “fantastic” for the first time in months.
“I experienced so much relief from the procedure, I was sure she had found something,” Cricket said. “The pressure in my head drained along with the fluid that had built up in my uterus and my tummy returned to its normal shape and size.”
A few days later, Cricket’s suspicions were confirmed when her gynecologist called with the news she had cancer. Cricket’s diagnosis would eventually be confirmed as stage 1 cervical cancer. The recommendation was a radical hysterectomy.
"I was scheduled for a CT scan and my hysterectomy was scheduled for Thursday, February 23, 2012,” Cricket said.
When Cricket first received the diagnosis, her initial reaction was a sense of relief knowing what was going on with her body. She leaned into finding out as much as she could about her cancer and developing an action plan. Cricket, who lives in Sandy Springs, also visited Cancer Support Community Atlanta (CSC) and learned about the classes and support programs they have to offer.
Cricket says CSC has been essential to her journey. “The CSC helped me navigate the wealth of information (and sometimes misinformation) on the internet,” she said.
“The staff, instructors and speakers are all amazing, but it is the sense of community that makes the greatest impact,” Cricket added. “You are with a group of people, at different stages of different types of cancer, experiencing a plethora of treatments. Yet there is a shared understanding that provides incredible clarity, hope and confidence.”
After recovering from her hysterectomy, Cricket began attending exercise and nutrition classes at CSC. It was also at CSC that Cricket met another patient who referred her to her oncologist, University Gynecologic Oncology’s Dr. Stephanie Yap.
Dr. Yap ordered a PET scan and, subsequently, performed surgery to remove multiple lymph nodes along with the lining of Cricket’s bladder.
“There was still the possibility they would find cancer in the lymph nodes, which was frightening, but I now had a network of support through the Cancer Support Community if that were to happen,” Cricket said.
“Fortunately, no cancer was found,” she added. “I healed beautifully and was able to return to work for the last few days of school. Dr. Yap would continue to monitor my health for three years.”
The following fall 2012, Cricket began to experience swelling in her legs, which can happen if lymph nodes or lymph vessels are removed or damaged by cancer treatment. She was referred to Northside’s Oncology Rehabilitation and learned strategies to relieve these symptoms including compression and massage. She also found monitoring her diet to be very helpful, along with regular exercise, particularly yoga and tai chi, both offered at CSC.
Today, Cricket is considered “cured” of cervical cancer.
“February  will mark 10 years since my initial diagnosis,” Cricket said. “Cancer has taught me to listen more closely to my body and take greater responsibility over my health.”
“Because I have always enjoyed good health, when I was experiencing symptoms, I felt like a hypochondriac and questioned if my symptoms were real or psychosomatic,” she said. “Today, my physical health is as good as it was prior to cancer. My emotional health is stronger, because I have learned to listen more to my body and to not ignore symptoms.”
Cricket’s “gratitude continues to grow,” not only to her doctors and Cancer Support Community, but also to her family and her colleagues. “It is essential for us to have people in our lives who recognize the things we cannot see in ourselves,” she said.
Cricket’s children were constant sources of emotional and physical support. And when she wanted to return to work early on, her assistant principal worked to secure a long-term substitute so that she could focus on her health. “It was miraculous to have a boss who was both compassionate enough to see the difference and bold enough to address it,” Cricket said.
As for the hospital, “my experience at Northside was excellent,” Cricket said. “From admissions to surgery, then billing, everyone I worked with was compassionate and helpful… I was constantly impressed by the concern for my emotional well-being as well as my physical condition.”
During her recovery, Cricket attended Camp Hope, an annual three-day weekend retreat, funded by the Northside Hospital Atlanta Auxiliary, and later served as a buddy for this beautiful retreat opportunity for cancer survivors. Today, she volunteers with Network of Hope, which connects cancer patients with trained volunteers who have also faced cancer and embraced life afterward.
“Volunteering with Network of Hope I realize this attention to the emotional well-being of patients is quite intentional and I love having the opportunity to support this effort,” Cricket said.
*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.