In November 2016 I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. It was found by mistake, part of another routine operation, and my life changed there and then. The consultant asked if I understood, I said I did, but I didn't. I didn't understand the impact cancer would have on my life. A radical hysterectomy later and no further treatment required. A long year of recovery, surgical menopause and getting back to normal. A sigh of relief and a 'thank God that's over' little did I know what was round the corner.
Fast forward two years to the day, there I am, same room I had my initial diagnosis, legs akimbo, having a biopsy. No symptoms of reoccurrence but a small lesion at the bottom of my vagina. The consultant told me the chance of cancer was very small. I'd heard that once before, two years ago, when I was 'too young for cancer'. A week later I was at work and I started to bleed..I hid in the toilet but it didn't stop.
I rang 111 and ended up at A&E.. I thought that was it, my time was up.. A mass pv hemorrhage later and I was hooked up to two pints of blood in resus. That was the moment they told me… Semi conscious after almost bleeding to death.. Your cancer is back. Oh.. And its metastic so its automatically stage 4, possible spread to the liver.. Tests.. Scans…All I could think was I'm lucky to be alive so I'll deal with that tomorrow. I told my family in resus, the last time they saw me I was semi conscious so I think they were just relieved I was alive, so no-one had time to process unlike if I'd been told in a normal appointment, we just accepted it.
I was transferred to a ward and the next morning was visited by the oncology team.. They re-iterated the same conversation; Stage 4.. do you understand? Yes, I understood, I understood it was time to get back on the cancer rollercoaster.
The weeks that followed were as expected; tests, scans, more tests, recovering from the blood transfusion, traumatised that everytime I'd go to the toilet I'd be bleeding, thinking yet again about my own mortality.
Anyone who's had cancer will tell you the same. After the anger comes the 'why me?'.
43 years old and cancer twice. What did I do to deserve this?
After this comes acceptance. Then the plan. Everyone waits for the plan. Once it's in your hand the control is passed back to you and you can begin to process the shock.
Radiotherapy and brachytherapy followed, neither were pleasant. But even though I'd had no adjunctive treatment the first time so many things were familiar. The oncology nurse knew me well, she could tell me what would happen, reassure me. When she did my holistic needs assessment (for the second time!) I remember the conversation well. She asked what my biggest fear was.
It wasn't dying, it was uncertainty. Everyone dies someday and when your times up its up. My biggest fear was that it wouldn't work. My CNS told me a story about another lady she supported who has lived an amazing life for 15+ years (so far) with reoccurant endometrial cancer. She told me this was the first line treatment, she told me about all the other treatments that I could try if this didn't work, she gave me the one thing everyone needs.. Hope.
Ten weeks later and treatment was over. It was nowhere near as scary as the first time round. The environment was familiar, the people were familiar, the tests were familiar, the routine was the same, the familiarity was safe. Nearly a year on and I'm still recovering from the side effects of the mass blood loss and the treatment, but each day I remember I'm lucky to be here.
Reoccurrence, a scary word.. In reality not as scary as you imagine it to be.or you build up in your mind. The fear never really leaves you, it just get less and less each day. You still worry about every lump and bump, but no worse than the first time round, no worse than the fear that every cancer patient has.
And if it's 'third times a charm' for me then so be it. I will remember the words of the CNS and how many options are still out there for me.
I will never let cancer win.