My Cancer Journey
It’s a Thursday afternoon in June. I listen to a message on my answering machine. It’s my gynecologist. She needs me to call the office about the results of my biopsy.
I tried to prepare myself for the news. I had not expected to hear I had endometrial (uterine) cancer.
I had some light bleeding in May and had made an appointment to see my gynecologist. I knew that any bleeding after menopause needs to be checked out.
I had similar symptoms before, and the results of previous biopsies had been benign. So, I thought it was the same thing I had experienced before. Unfortunately, this time it was cancer.
A Range of Emotions
I went through a range of emotions—I was relieved it was caught early but was freaked out about having surgery and possibly chemo or radiation.
I lost my appetite and had trouble sleeping. I kept waking up thinking, “Oh my god, I have cancer.” I had chocolate in the house that I didn’t even touch for a week. I lost three pounds in four days.
I knew I would need a hysterectomy, and I had never had major surgery. Even though I believed I caught it early, I started imagining the surgeon would open me up and find cancer had spread all over.
Fortunately, my gynecologist referred me to a cancer center near my home, and I could get an appointment with a gynecological oncologist the following Monday.
A Difficult Weekend
I told my sister about my diagnosis and asked her to take me to my appointment on Monday. We had many long conversations that weekend. She felt confident I would come through this experience and be okay because I was healthy otherwise.
I had been looking for a full-time job, but after my diagnosis, I put my job hunt on hold. I was covered under COBRA until the end of June. I had already started the process of getting new insurance through the health care exchange before I was diagnosed. I was grateful that pre-existing conditions can’t be considered since I now had one.
Meeting with My Doctor
I was still feeling anxious when I had my first appointment with my oncologist. She immediately put me at ease.
I felt like a weight had been lifted after I talked to my doctor. Although I had to have a radical hysterectomy as well as removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes, I learned that the surgery would be minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery.
She also told me I would not need chemotherapy but might need radiation if cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. However, they wouldn’t know until they did the surgery.
I asked her if the surgery could be done in July since I was changing insurance. She said that was no problem and it was not an emergency. My surgery was scheduled for mid-July.
Preparing for Surgery
I used the month before surgery to prepare myself mentally. I also used that time to tell family and close friends about my diagnosis. I still felt anxious but was getting better at managing my fears.
I had done a lot of research online after I got my diagnosis, and I knew this type of cancer had a good prognosis if it was found early. However, I was worried about whether cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. I still had trouble sleeping, but when I woke up in the middle of the night, I told myself “I have cancer, but I’m going to be ok.” I decided to stop looking at information online because I was making myself crazy.
One of the great things about this experience was the support I received from family and friends. I was scared but realized I would come through it ok.
When I went for pre-surgery testing, I told the nurse, “I know I have cancer, but I feel fine. I feel the same as I did before my diagnosis.”
The Day of Surgery
I had to be at the hospital early in the morning. I had been on a liquid diet the day before to prepare for surgery and had some trouble sleeping.
I was still feeling a little nervous. When I was in the pre-operative suite, my doctor came to check on me and told me the surgery would take about 90 minutes. The anesthesiologist asked me if I wanted Xanax to relax me before they put me under. I immediately said yes.
The last thing I remember is being wheeled to the operating room at around 9 a.m. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes and seeing the clock in the recovery room. It was 1 p.m. My first thought was “Oh no, something must have gone wrong.” The nurses kept telling me I looked good. I thought they said that to everyone, but they assured me they don’t.
When I got to my room, my sister was waiting. My doctor told her the surgery went well, and it appeared that there was no spread to the lymph nodes. The reason the operation took so long involved all the work they had to do to prepare the slides for the pathology report.
I had minimal pain and felt surprisingly good after surgery, but then I woke up at 1:30 in the morning and felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. Fortunately, the pain medication worked quickly, and that was the worst of it.
I went home the day after surgery. I was able to manage my pain with ibuprofen, and after about two weeks I didn’t even need that. I took a 20-minute walk every day, and my energy level seemed to return to normal after a few days. I was able to resume driving and go back to the gym a month after my surgery.
About two weeks after my surgery, my doctor confirmed that cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes, and I do not need any other treatments. The operation took care of it.
She also recommended that I have genetic testing for Lynch syndrome. This genetic mutation can increase the risk of endometrial cancer and colon cancer. If I had Lynch syndrome, I would need to have more frequent colonoscopies.
Fortunately, I did not have Lynch syndrome. I had a blood test that analyzed 28 different genes, and no cancer-causing mutations were found.
What I’ve Learned
This experience forced me to think about my mortality. It has given me a greater appreciation for what I have and for the people in my life.
When I was diagnosed, I thought about a friend who died of melanoma 15 years ago. I realized that my developing cancer was not something I could anticipate or control.
My body looks pretty much the same. I have two small half-inch scars (one on each side of my abdomen). Other than that, there’s no sign I had major surgery.
I feel lucky that everything worked out. I am grateful that my recovery went well and my health is good. I’m trying harder to not get stressed about minor issues, and my perspective on life has changed.