Helping you live your best life

Skip main navigation
Group Created with Sketch.

Need help

What can we help you find?

Related Search Terms

Related Search Results


Athlete and mom of three embraces a new role: Cervical cancer survivor

After two years of treatment from her VCU Health Massey Cancer Center care team, mom is ready to take on triathlon training.

A couple sits smiling at a restaurant. On the left is Taryn Dwan, an athlete and cancer survivor Taryn Dwan, an athlete and cervical cancer survivor, will be training for an Olympic-distance triathlon this summer. (Taryn Dawn)

By Annie Harris

Taryn Dwan doesn’t shy away from a challenge.

The 39-year-old mom of three follows through on her goals — whether conquering a triathlon or running the half marathon she was training for when diagnosed with stage 3C cervical cancer in February 2021.

That determination has helped Dwan through her treatment and as she looks ahead to her life beyond cancer.

After an abnormal Pap smear, Dwan received a colposcopy that revealed a tumor on her cervix in February 2021. Her provider urged her to see a specialist at VCU Massey Cancer Center within 72 hours, and she quickly made an appointment with Devin Miller, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Massey.

The two-year treatment triathlon

Dwan was soon on a treatment path that included surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and brachytherapy, which is a type of radiation therapy that allows doctors to deliver a higher dosage of radiation to a specific area of the body compared to external radiation therapy. She also enrolled in a phase III clinical trial with the help of her Massey team, including Miller and Massey radiation oncologist Emma Fields, M.D.

“Dr. Fields was a great advocate for me, using a customized treatment plan to target where the cancer was located and where it could potentially spread,” said Dwan.

During surgery for a planned radical hysterectomy, Dwan’s doctors noticed previously undetected spread. They were not able to complete the hysterectomy but removed 25 lymph nodes from her pelvis. After surgery, Dwan enrolled in a clinical trial examining the addition of immunotherapy to the standard six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation.

“The gynecologic oncologists and I work as a team to carefully and efficiently put together our treatment plans,” Fields said. “We have a lot of clinical trial options that allow patients like Taryn access to standard-of-care therapy plus the addition of novel agents that have the potential to improve outcomes.”

Now almost two years out from her diagnosis, Dwan’s scans show no evidence of disease, and she’ll be celebrating her last treatment this month.

Taryn Dwan

Taryn Dwan celebrates at the finish line of the 2022 Kinetic Jamestown Triathlon in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Taryn Dawn)

Doctor and patient: a connection between new teammates

Outside of her work as a nonprofit fundraiser and time with her family, Dwan stays active, playing soccer with her girls, running and triathlon training. She credits Miller for understanding her as a patient – perhaps because Miller herself is an athlete.

“I feel incredibly lucky that I went through this with her. I don’t think I would have survived the journey the same way if it wasn’t with someone who understood me,” Dwan said.

“Taryn is truly inspirational, and I feel so privileged that we were able to care for her and give her the opportunity to receive cutting-edge treatment with a clinical trial,” Miller said. “Our goal is to cure our patients, and through clinical trials and the multidisciplinary care we provide at Massey we are increasing our ability to do that.”

When asked about her road to diagnosis, Dwan explained how she was “religious” about getting yearly Pap smears and having annual check-ups. While she didn’t have the typical symptoms, she says her body didn’t feel quite right so she requested testing even earlier than was necessary based on the guidelines.

Paying attention to your body and advocating for testing when something feels off can be critical to providing prompt treatment options.

“We are working towards preventing all cervical cancer with vaccination and screening Pap tests, but women are still diagnosed with this disease every day,” said Miller. “Seeking regular medical care is so important for early detection.

Dwan hopes to help raise awareness for women.

“I’m young, I’m active, and I was affected,” Dwan said. “If just one more person gets a Pap, the HPV vaccine or catches something early after hearing my story, I’ll feel I’ve played my role.”

Dwan, who turns 40 in May, will be training for an Olympic-distance triathlon this summer.

“When I turned 38, I was doing brachytherapy. This will be a much better challenge to take on.”