By Sara Bondell - January 21, 2021
In 2010, Jacky Costello received some of the best news of her life: she was going to be a mom. She was living in her native country of Germany with her husband, and the pair planned to start a family once her husband’s Army career winded down.
They welcomed a son and were eager to have more children.
However, about a year later, Costello had an irregular Pap smear at her annual check-up. Doctors told her they would monitor her with Pap tests every three months. When Costello was eventually tested for human papillomavirus (HPV), results showed she had a high-risk strain.
“I started to get really nervous and anxious and pushed for a biopsy because I just had a weird feeling about this,” said Costello. “I was trying to trust my own body and I knew how I felt.”
The biopsy showed Costello had stage 2 cervical cancer.
“They pretty much gave me enough time to go home and repack my bag and come back to the hospital,” said Costello.
Costello underwent a five-hour surgery in Germany where surgeons performed a radical hysterectomy and removed more than 50 pelvic lymph nodes. She had a large incision and was in the hospital for several weeks afterwards.
“I was pretty active before, but the surgery put me down,” said Costello. “I couldn’t lift anything, including my baby.”
Costello also struggled emotionally. “My husband and I were mourning the fact that we could no longer have biological children,” she said. “It took a long time to get over that and it’s still hard today eight years later.”
A year after her surgery, Costello and her family moved from Germany to Tampa. She needed to find a doctor to take over her follow-up care, and a woman she met in a fitness class for cancer survivors recommended Moffitt Cancer Center. After her experience, it was important to find a new care team she trusted. She felt at home at the cancer center, and remained a patient there until she transferred back to a community practice after hitting the five-year mark.
Since then, Costello has started her own cleaning business, which partners with nonprofit Cleaning for a Reason to offer free cleaning services for cancer patients. She has also published a book about her cancer journey.
“I just want people to understand that you should never give up and you should always push through,” she said.
Costello hopes her story encourages women to stay on top of their cancer screenings. “Do your cancer screenings, that’s really the bottom line,” she said. “A lot of times women just don’t think about it—they feel good and assume there is nothing wrong. Well, I have news for you: sometimes you can’t really see or feel it until it’s there.”
And while the HPV vaccine wasn’t available to Costello as a young woman, she is an advocate for the it, and says she hopes one day her son will receive it. “I don’t ever want him to go through cancer himself or be a carrier for HPV.”