Another in our occasional series of stories by ladies who have had womb cancer
What a momentous year 2013 turned out to be!
At age 60, I began to bleed; knowing that the menopause was a thing of the past so this should not be happening, I shoved it to the back of my mind, in true ostrich fashion. Of course, it al got worse, more painful and much heavier and my doctor wisely referred me to Winchester hospital under the two-week rule and probably saved my life!
After two biopsies under general anaesthetic and two MRI scans, my formal diagnosis was delivered by my specialist on 16 Dec 2013 as being a Stage 1 womb cancer, showing no spread outside. I remember the date rather well, as it was also the 40th anniversary of my Mum's death from ovarian cancer. When I told the specialist, she sat back and burst out, 'Oh no, what crap timing' and we both burst out laughing! I actually recall feeling incredibly pleased that my far worse fears hadn't been realised and that with a short course of radiotherapy after a radical hysterectomy, the outlook was only marginally worse than if I hadn't been diagnosed with cancer at all.
A week later, on 20 Dec, I met my surgeon who said he intended to do it by keyhole surgery, which surprised me as I'm frankly obese. He said, 'Well it will be a challenge for me but, I'm confident I can do it that way'. He did say that there was a small chance he'd have to change it to a TAH when he got, 'in there' and so it proved to be. The plan was to remove womb, tubes, ovaries and send lymph node samples off to the lab and then a short course of RT as belt and braces.
To begin with, it was very hard to tell friends and family that I had CANCER, and for several weeks after the last biopsy in November, having asked my first specialist to be honest about what she thought would be the likely diagnosis, I couldn't actually say the word. It was always the 'Big C' or something similar. The weekend after my formal diagnosis, with the inspiration of a suffering friend from Belfast, I decided it was time to go public on Facebook and wrote about what was happening to me. By lunchtime that Saturday, I'd had 50, yes 50, messages of support from friends. I'd already asked my Manager to tell as many as possible at the Council where I work and at my request, she passed on the email I sent to her. The incredible messages of love and support I received made me cry a great deal but I'm so glad I made everything so public, having only told a select few friends and immediate colleagues prior to that. I sat down with my previous Manager, over a coffee for a no holds barred session, as she'd had massive breast cancer just 3 years before. That was all organised by those two Managers and was the making of me and for which I will always be grateful as it must have been tough for her too.
By the time I went in to Southampton GH for the surgery, I'd become strangely calm and peaceful, which I personally know was the result of huge amounts of prayers from Christian friends, colleagues, the Winchester Cathedral community where I go to church and my few family members.
I've never worried about general anaesthetics so, one moment I was awake and the next back in recovery and onto the ward, where I can't claim to have experienced as much pain as I'd expected. I discovered that I'd had some unexpected complications with unknown adhesions so, I'd had to be 'unpicked' as the surgeon described it, he'd had to ask for assistance from a second consultant surgeon and it has resulted in a vertical incision, about 50 staples and an extra two hours in theatre. Although I used the morphine pump attached to my arm, I don't think I really needed it and would not have bothered had I not been told I must use it. My catheter was removed the next morning and I was up and starting to walk to and from the loo the morning after surgery, uncomforable though it felt.
I was terrified about going home to where I'm a lodger, knowing I had no physical support and living conditions are very confined. My fears were proved right when, on the 6th day, my wound broke down and I was pouring blood and gunk all over the bed, the floor, everything. I cried all over the staff, my poor surgeon who was an absolute rock, the Sisters and eventually my fears were taken seriously and Social Services involved to assess me for some rehab care in a nursing home. The Socal Worker recommended it immediately and after about two and a half weeks, a place was found for me in the Little Haven NH on the edge of the New Forest.
Whe I arrived there, the staff were absolutel angels, I was the youngest there by about 30 years and I gained 30 new Grandmas. I had a lovely room overlooking the gardens and my well being and recovery absolutely rocketed, Within a week, I made huge strides and was able to walk up to the local village - about 300 yards away - and back, provided I rested in the cafe before walking back. I left there after about two and a half weeks and went home again.
I was taken aback to feel incredibly tearful and weak for ages after that, having thought I'd moved so far forward. My doctor took me in hand, as did the surgery nurses as they dressed my still open wound every other day. It took approx two months for it heal sufficiently for my four sessions of radio therapy to begin.
When I was in the Nursing Home, I had to go to see the surgeon and he joyfully and joyously delivered the result that everything was clear with only a need for short course of RT as belt and braces. As I write, on 2 May, that is now finished and I'm close to seeing the Council Occupational Health company to see what hours I can go back to work. HR and my Manager have told me only to expect to be working very few hours to begin with and that they want me to take things very easily and steadily.
I know I've been incredibly lucky and supported by a vast number of friends and I'm intensely grateful for so much. I've met so many lovely caring people through the group and hopefully, I've been able to at least put a small amount back and offer care, advice and comfort to others who have these situations yet to come and be faced. If so, I've done what I believe I was put here for.
Blog posts about life with womb cancer; by me and other womb cancer fighters and survivors. Plus occasional guest blog posts on relevant subjects.