" This is a tale of what not to do. Of what not to ignore. To begin at the end, I have been very fortunate so far, with stage 2 cancer treated with surgery and radiotherapy. But I almost certainly could have prevented even that being necessary. I finished the menopause sometime around the age of 51, and in the final stages of it I began experiencing 'spotting' ie intermittent and light blood loss. Not wanting to face the embarrassment of discussing it with my GP, and tired of doctors and hospitals because of other (unrelated) health problems, I told myself it was just the menopause having its final say, and ignored it. Months passed. The spotting continued, more regularly. I continued to look the other way though I was disappointed that post-menopause I still wasn't free from sanitary towels. Finally, I had a very heavy bleed, heavier than most of my periods had been. And, finally, I took myself off to see my GP.
What followed was what I now know to be the routine in such cases:
- urgent referral to hospital (ie to be seen within 2 weeks),
- ultrasound scan (revealing ridiculously thickened womb lining of 30+mm),
- cervical smear
- hysteroscopy - which showed multiple polyps and tissue which the consultant told me immediately she thought was cancer, and finally
- cancer diagnosis on 11 November 2014. Remembrance Day. Not that I'm ever likely to forget.
Initially my cancer was thought to be stage 1 ie confined to the womb. I recovered well from the laparoscopic total hysterectomy with the help of good friends who looked after me and helped me gradually build up my physical activity. I hoped that would be the end of it, but analysis showed that despite a normal smear test just weeks before, the cancer had spread to my cervix and was now regarded as stage 2. In consequence I had radiotherapy, every weekday for 5 and a half weeks. Once I got used to the routine of that treatment, the weeks passed surprisingly quickly, though it was exhausting.
At time of writing, the radiotherapy is 4 months in the past, I've had one check-up and know that I must watch for any bleeding and immediately contact my oncology team should I see evidence of blood. My 2nd check-up is in a week's time.
Despite this relatively easy ride, compared to someone having an abdominal hysterectomy and/or chemotherapy, there has been considerable emotional fall-out. Don't listen to people who tell you womb cancer is a 'good' kind of cancer. They mean well, and they mean that they hope you will recover quickly and fully, of course. But the cancer diagnosis landed me deep into the terror of an early death, the guilt at ignoring the symptoms and at being so overweight, and burning anger at the loss of control. My body no longer my own, subject to a surgeon's knife, damaging rays and a 5-year stint of check-ups, internal examinations and underlying anxiety. The knowledge that I will be on cancer watch for the rest of my life.
Between hysteroscopy and hysterectomy, I compiled a 'bucket list', and ensured my will reflected my current wishes. I couldn't quite bring myself to leave funeral instructions, but when I went into hospital I left behind copies of my will, my Lasting Powers of Attorney, and a note for my executors.
I still have the bucket list and I still intend to work my way through it. Having to contemplate my own mortality has made me focus on the people and things that matter most to me, and means I am trying not to 'sweat the small stuff'. Top of my list is to complete the degree I was working on when diagnosis struck, and I'm ready to start my 2nd year again in October. Life does continue beyond a cancer diagnosis. Not the same life though, or the same unthinking assumption that I will reach old age. Everything is both more trivial and more important."
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xx Kaz xx