I wrote my first guest blog post for WCSUK just over a year ago. At the time I was coming to the end of my chemo treatments and about to start radiotherapy. Now, a year later, my treatments have all finished and there have been no signs of the disease since October 2019.
I first went to my GP in November 2018 following changes to my periods. To be honest, there had been gradual changes for a long time before I went to see her. But I had dismissed them, as they were such minor changes, and put them down to getting older. Had I known that I should get any changes to my periods checked out, I would have known to see my doctor before the cancer had had the chance to progress to stage 3c (spread to nearby lymph nodes). This is why it is important to spread awareness so women will know to seek help sooner.
I got my cancer diagnosis in March 2019 and because of its advanced stage; I needed a radical hysterectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, 25 radiotherapy sessions, and to finish it all of, 2 internal radiotherapy treatments (brachytherapy).
How people react to their treatments varies from person to person. It scared me to start chemo but chemo was kind to me. Knowing all the potential side effects, I got off lightly. The first 4-5 days after each session were always the worst, but then I could have a couple of weeks feeling almost normal - my treatments were three weeks apart. In those two weeks, I often felt so well that had it not been for the hair loss, I would have wondered whether the drugs were doing anything at all.
But they worked as a CT scan taken half way during the six courses of chemo showed. As did the scan taken before the start of radiotherapy. Getting these positive scan results was a definite psychological boost. It was easier to enter five weeks of daily radiotherapy knowing my body was beating the cancer.
Especially as radiotherapy hit me a lot harder than chemo. Before my own diagnosis, I hadn’t even know that oncologists use radiotherapy to treat cancer. Now I found out that the list of potential side effects was as long as those for chemo. Talk about a steep learning curve!
The side effect that hit me the worst was fatigue. That, combined with chemo brain, meant I spent most days in a haze, sleeping and resting. And it took a long while to recover from that after the treatments finished. But it is possible to recover and now, I am almost back to normal energy levels.
Radiotherapy to the pelvic area can also cause many other complications. For example, problems with bowels, urinating and it can make the vaginal passage shorter and narrower, making sex more painful. In fact, my doctor instructed me to either have regular intercourse or use a plastic tube and lubricants the hospital supplied me with, to combat the effect on the vaginal passage.
They also gave me pills in case of diarrhoea. Before they begin radiotherapy treatments, the nurses do a planning scan to minimise effects on the bowels and kidneys. In my case they did an amazing job as apart from a few near misses, my bowels were mostly fine. For example, there was a time when I had to get off the bus mid-journey and rush into the nearest pub to avoid an embarrassing accident. Let’s just say I made it there just in time.
The trouble with the side effects is that some can appear a long time after the treatments have finished. Some can even appear a few years later. But I am keeping my fingers crossed that they stay away.
I know I have been extremely lucky with both short- and long-term side effects. I am left with joint pain in my knees, elbows and fingers and a very stiff pelvic area. But I have found that exercise helps with the joint pain, and stretching is slowly helping with the stiffness. But it is nothing that affects my day-to-day life. I am also lucky to be alive as the odds were not on my side.
The odds for successful treatment of womb cancer when diagnosed at stage 1 are 90-95% depending on the source. Therefore the work of organisations such as WCSUK is so crucial, and why I want to do my bit through sharing my story on sites such as WCSUK. I am also doing a charity bike ride across Europe with my partner. It is vital that more women know when to see their doctor as early diagnosis saves lives.
You can find out more about the bike ride on my blog Cycling for Cancer .