My Story | Mary O., Illinois, USA
In December 2001, I went to my gynecologist for my yearly exam and Pap test, although I have to admit that it had been slightly longer than a year. While there, he asked me if I was having any problems, and I told him I had been bleeding and spotting between my periods for quite some time.
I am 49 years old, so I figured he would tell me I was perimenopausal. He ordered a hormone test that came back in the normal range for a non-perimenopausal woman. He also ordered an endometrial biopsy to check the condition of my uterus. He recommended that I not be bleeding during the biopsy, so I scheduled it accordingly. However, with the holidays and my son's college graduation, I didn't have the biopsy for seven weeks.
Since we were leaving for vacation in two weeks, I called the next week for the results. The nurse told me my results were in and asked the doctor talk to me himself. The first thing he asked was, "When are you leaving on your trip?" I told him in two days. He then said I had adenocarcinoma of the endometrium, but that I should take the trip anyway. He told me he was pretty sure the cancer was very early stage, contained in a polyp inside my uterus. If that were the case, a radical hysterectomy would be the cure.
My husband and I left for Mexico as scheduled with two other couples. All of us were celebrating the year we would turn 50 and I was wondering IF I would even see that day! While my friends were supportive, it was a very hard week for me to be away from home.
Surgery was scheduled for March 11th, and, as luck would have it, I had my period the day of the surgery. I had a total abdominal hysterectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy and lymphadenectomy. A general surgeon assisted during the surgery to remove lymph nodes for testing. Surgery went well and two days later, the pathology report showed that while the cancer was contained in the uterus, it covered almost the entire endometrial lining and myometrium so was classified as stage 1b. I was so relieved that there was no involvement of the ovaries or lymph nodes! Based on these findings, my gynecologist recommended additional radiation therapy, and had a radiation oncologist stop by my hospital room before I was released that morning.
I called my husband and my best friend. They came to the hospital immediately and were with me during the examination by the radiation oncologist. He recommended five weeks (25 treatments) of external pelvic radiation, followed by a 24-hour radium implant (brachytherapy) two weeks later.
I began the radiation therapy just two weeks after my surgery because I wanted to get it over with. I went back to work part-time four weeks after my surgery and two weeks into radiation because I couldn't stand being home anymore. I was able to work a half day, go for my radiation, and then home to rest. I did have some bowel and bladder problems associated with the surgery and radiation, but for the most part, it was easier than I thought it would be. The staff at the radiation therapy center was wonderful; I couldn't have gotten through it without them. They were so compassionate and caring, and were able to put me completely at ease during treatments that were very embarrassing. After a couple of weeks, I was so at ease with them that my stomach was no longer in knots when I walked in the door. Whenever I had a problem I could just call and talk to them or the doctor. They were always available and I never had to wait for a return phone call. Their suggestions at easing any potential problems or symptoms were very helpful.
I finished my external radiation treatments and two weeks later, went into the hospital for a 24-hour radium implant. The device was implanted during surgery, and the radium was loaded once I got to my room. Because I was radioactive, my visitors were limited and had to stand behind a lead wall in my room to see me. Three of my radiation technologists came to visit me the morning of the surgery. (I told you they were the best!) The implant was very uncomfortable, mostly because I could not move or get up for 24 hours. The next day, the doctor removed the implant, and I was able to go home.
My recovery has gone very well, and I feel better than I have in years. This is in part because I have a renewed appreciation for my life and I am making every attempt to make it as healthy as I can. My friends and family have been so supportive during the entire ordeal. My best friend has been fighting her own battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for over thirteen years, so all I have learned about being a cancer survivor, I learned from her.
It has been three months since I completed my treatment, and I recently had a scare. I'd been noticing some pink spotting, which I thought might be from bladder irritation caused by the radiation treatments. However, when I realized that it was coming from my vagina, I feared that the cancer had returned. I saw my gynecologist right away. He determined that the bleeding was from scar tissue, cauterized it right then and there, and the bleeding stopped.
My experience with endometrial cancer has taught me a lot. In the future, if I ever hear a woman say she has been spotting or bleeding between periods, I will urge her to get to her doctor and to request a biopsy of her uterus!