Before I was diagnosed with womb cancer, I was very unaware of the range of symptoms that can be a sign of cancer in the womb and it is only afterwards that I have come to realise that there were plenty of signs; I just didn't know them. Didn't associate them with cancer at all and that is why we need to raise as much awareness about womb cancer as we possibly can.
I first went to the doctor last autumn. For a while I had been having longer and heavier periods and then the pain started as well. It was definitely time to go to see my GP. But still I didn't think there was anything in particular wrong with me. I thought the changes in my periods were linked to getting older and an approaching menopause (happens early in my family). So I wasn't that worried when I booked an appointment. However, I did choose a doctor at the practise, who is specialised in women's 'problems' and who I felt would look into the causes of the changes properly and not just prescribe a solution. Maybe it was sixth sense or whatever you choose to call it that made me choose her.
And she was brilliant. She referred me to a gynaecologist straight away. And in the meantime gave me some pills to help with the excessive bleeding and pain (however, these didn't really help that much; I found that regular painkillers worked better for me). She also put me on some iron tablets as I was severely anaemic due to the heavy bleeding.
I then had a few months wait for the gynaecologist's appointment during which time the periods got even longer and heavier and I was taking painkillers nearly every day even when there was no bleeding.
My gynaecologist appointment finally arrived early this year and in it they could tell that the lining of my womb had thickened and decided to refer me to a further exam where they could look at it in more detail and take a biopsy. I faced another wait. And consumed more painkillers.
From the second appointment where they took the biopsy everything seemed to go really quickly and now, when I look back, it is all a bit of a blur. I remember going back to the hospital to hear the results for my second exam. My partner came with me. So far I had attended the appointments by myself but some reason (perhaps it was the sixth sense again) I felt that I needed him with me for this appointment. And I was right.
I could tell from the doctor's demeanour straight away that the news weren't good. He had explained to me the possibility of cancer the last time I had seen him but I had not really thought it would really be cancer - how could it. Again, I was only 42! He explained to us that it was cancer and that I would need to have CT and MRI scans to establish whether it had spread and what treatment would be needed - other than a hysterectomy, which I would definitely need to have.
Within a few weeks from that appointment I had had my scans and was meeting with an oncologist, who explained in detail the operation I was going to have: a radical hysterectomy. To be honest, I had to Google it once I got home, as, even though he explained it all to me, I couldn't really take it all in. He also asked me what my plans were for next Friday and told me to cancel them whatever they might be - I would be having surgery then. So we were moving quickly. Much more quickly than it took the fact that I had cancer to sink in. To become reality. Although there are still plenty of times when all this just seems so surreal.
Eventually the news did (kind of) sink in - I had cancer and I was going to have to have my womb removed (thank God I didn't want any children) and possibly would need further treatment, too. My oncologist had mentioned the possibility of further treatment following the surgery but we had not gone into detail; they would have a look at what was needed after the surgery. For my part I was happy to focus on getting through one thing at a time; I would face whatever might come after the surgery. The idea of having major surgery was scary enough, let alone the thought of chemo after.
My surgery went really well and so did the recovery from it. Within just a week after it I was able to move about with ease and actually had to keep reminding myself not to do too much and cause myself damage. And by the time my follow up appointment with the oncologist came around, I was feeling very positive. Partly because I had read that often a
hysterectomy was all that was needed to treat cancer of the womb and I wanted to believe that this would be the case with me as well.
But it wasn't to be. Because the cancer had had a chance to spread to lymph nodes, I was going to need a course of chemo and radiation therapy. Now of course I knew of chemo and the side-effects from that but I had not been aware that radiation therapy was also used to treat cancer (how blissfully ignorant I was). It was explained to me that though there were no visible signs of disease after the surgery, I would need to have six courses of chemo followed by five weeks of radiation therapy and two sessions of brachytherapy to ensure that all the disease was gone and to stop it from recurring.
I have now had five courses of chemotherapy and only one remains (yay!). The hair is long gone but other than that it honestly hasn't been too bad. I know I am lucky with having had minimal side-effects; I have not been feeling nauseous at all and other than the hair loss, tiredness and a strange, sort of restless feeling in my legs a few days after a treatment, I have been feeling fine. In fact, thanks to the lifestyle changes I have made and not being in constant pain due to heavy bleeding, I am actually (ironically) feeling better than I have felt in a long time. I am now looking after myself properly, exercising and eating healthily and I know that I am going to beat this cancer.
Having mentioned minimal side-effects there is one thing that I have been suffering from: menopausal symptoms. Especially the hot flushes. I keep waking up at night drenched in sweat. And have several moments each day when I perspire heavily. But this will pass. I am willing to endure whatever I need to in order to be well again. And indeed, the last CT scan I had showed a fantastic response to the treatment; knowing that it is working makes it easier to remain positive!
This week I have had my planning scan for the radiation. I had to have it twice because the first time my bowels weren't properly empty; the second time was better and radiology team is now busy preparing my radiation treatment, which will start after a short recovery period after the final chemo, which is two weeks tomorrow. I know that I still have challenging weeks ahead with the radiation but right now I am looking forward to be able to say: chemo done!
And I am truly, impatiently looking forward to October when all my treatments will be done and dusted and normal life can (slowly) resume again.
In the meantime (and after as well, of course) I want to keep raising awareness of womb cancer because had I been aware of all the symptoms, I might have been fine with 'just' a hysterectomy and not needed chemo and radiation. It is vital to know the symptoms because, as with any type of cancer, the earlier it is discovered, the more effective the treatment will be.
If you wish to read more about my experiences and thoughts around cancer and many things related (and some not so related) - do check my blog