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My Story | Vee J., California, USA

Cervical cancer, stage 1a, diagnosed 2002 at 47
Modified radical hysterectomy, oophorectomy

First, thank you so much for this website. It is so good to hear about other people's experiences and to use their information to help make the best choices possible.

Here is my story. If you're reading this and facing cancer, I hope you can find something in it that helps you in some way.

After thirty years of never having a bad annual Pap (I'm 47), I was told I had CIN III (Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia; severe dysplasia). The doctor did a LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure), but the biopsy found microinvasive cancer (stage 1a) so I was told I needed a modified radical hysterectomy.

The news hit me very very hard. I'd been under a lot of financial stress in the past year, but hearing this so shocked me that I began a long period of soul searching. I realized much of the stress was self-inflicted: I worried about things before they happened, was critical of others, and got so angry over things that I couldn't change anyway. I read that when you are tense and/or angry, your body's immune system doesn't work as it should.

So I started to really examine myself more and found ways to stay calmer and more appreciative of the good things, rather than focusing on the bad. I also started doing more research on nutrition. I read one study that talked about how a betacarotene deficiency could cause problems such as epithilial tissue cancer. Since I'd also been diagnosed with skin cancer this same year, I decided to start eating better. I took a supplement, but more importantly, ate more dark (green and orange) vegetables, fruits, and dairy foods.

I also did a lot of research on my condition and on treatment options. I decided that hysterectomy was the only choice I had, and that at my age, odds were high that my ovaries would shut down so I opted to have them removed as well. But, prior to surgery, I insisted that my doctor do two tests: a hormone panel to see what my levels of estrogen and progesterone were, and a bone density scan. The tests showed I had virtually non-existent levels of estrogen (though I still got regular periods) but very strong bones. Since breast cancer is in my family, I told the doctor I didn't think I wanted hormone replacement. I never got a hot flash after surgery, so I'm glad I made this decision especially in light of recent studies.

Other things I did prior to surgery that I'd highly recommend included buying a big pair of comfy drawstring sweatpants and big underwear. I had no idea I'd swell as much and be so uncomfortable. The swelling went down after about a month or two, but until then (and even after) I couldn't stand anything tight rubbing against the incision. Also, anyone having any kind of abdominal surgery should make sure there is at least one comfortable chair in the house with sturdy arms that you can push on to get up. If you don't own one, get one at a thrift store before surgery and set it up in your bedroom for when you come home.

Surgery went well. I'd spent about fifteen minutes a day in the month before surgery listening to a visualization tape about staying calm and recovering. Even so, I was pretty terrified. One of the hardest parts was taking off my wedding ring before I went in. I knew, of course, no jewelry was allowed, but somehow forgot that my ring fell in that category too.

After surgery, I felt okay and was thankful to have gotten through it. I was also very thirsty, but was told I couldn't eat or drink anything for a few days, not even water or ice chips. I don't know if this was just something unique to my surgeon, my area, or what, but no one warned me about this. Apparently it's because when they check to make sure the cancer hasn't spread, they manipulate your bladder and bowels so they don't work quite right afterwards. I wish I'd known this in advance.

Passing gas is the sign you're returning to normal. In fact, I have never spent so much time thinking about gas and other bodily functions as I did in the hospital! A very sweet nurse told me that rolling over onto your side gets things moving, so to speak, and she was right. Once I passed "wind," they let me have clear fluids, juice and jello, all of which never tasted so good. I was very woozy from the medication and from not eating, and had problems getting up from bed. Even so, three days later, they told me I was ready to go home.

I didn't think I was ready - I'm told no one ever thinks they're ready, but somehow we survive. Also, I didn't realize I'd have to go home with the catheter. Doctors should warn you about such things in advance. I also wish I'd been warned about other things, like the fact that lymph node dissection can irritate the nerves that run down your legs. When I realized I had unbearable numbness in my legs after surgery, I was very scared. Despite the numbness, I continued to walk, starting very slowly for about five minutes a day, slowly working back up to a mile or two a day, always putting an ice bag on the groin area afterwards. The ice was no fun, but I think it helped the swelling.

The numbness went away and things returned to mostly normal after two months. Three months after surgery, I almost felt like my old self physically. I guess in the greater scheme of things, three months isn't that long. I did (and do) try to maintain my more positive attitude since surgery. When they removed the IV in the hospital, I thought that I never again wanted to take for granted the simply joy of being able to fold my arm under my head and feel the coolness of the sheets and pillowcase. Or remembering back to how hard and painful it was to get out of bed, and how I now I can do it effortlessly. Things like that are so easy to take for granted, but I try not to.

Sometimes it's hard to appreciate the really small-but-wonderful stuff, but at least when I'm trying, I have a better chance. And people who know me say I seem much more serene. I feel that way inside, too. I realize I was very, very blessed in that the cancer was caught so early, and I want never to take my health for granted again.

For those of you going through this, you're in my prayers. I hope you found at least something in this rambling story that helped you.

January 2004

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