Vicki had relocated to southern Florida in February 2002 to be married; 9 months later, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer on her 43rd birthday. She is currently recovering from a radical hysterectomy and working as an artist as she undergoes radiation therapy.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I’ve always had an irregular menstrual cycle and doctors suspected it was due to fibroids. But in September 1999 I was bleeding so heavily that I needed a new tampon every 10 minutes. After a trip to the emergency room, I was given a hormone shot and told to see my primary care doctor. I was put on a birth control pill, which worked for a while to regulate my cycle.
Then in April 2001, I saw a new gynecologist who expressed concern about the fact that I am a smoker, which can cause problems in people taking the pill. She switched me to Depo Provera hormonal shots, but after about 10 days I began to bleed again. She performed an ultrasound, but it was negative, so I continued with the shots. I bled continuously, but lightly until November 2002. On November 18th, I began to have severe pain, as if someone had “scraped” my insides.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
I was admitted to the hospital on November 20th with low blood pressure and a low hemoglobin level due to blood loss. I received blood transfusions and underwent a dilation and curettage (D&C), which is a surgical test in which the doctor scrapes tissue from the lining of the cervix to check for cancer cells, hyperplasia, or other conditions. I received the news that I had Stage II uterine cancer on my 43rd birthday, November 22nd. Two days later, I had a radical hysterectomy, which involved the removal of my uterus and ovaries.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
I took the news of cancer much better than I ever thought I would. I think it was because the doctor told me that 85% of people never need any other treatment except a surgical hysterectomy, which removes the uterus and possibly the ovaries. And he also said chemotherapy, which scared me, was not a treatment option for uterine cancer. So, I felt optimistic about my treatment options.
How is uterine cancer treated?
Most women can be treated with surgery alone. In some cases where the cancer may have broken through the uterine wall to enter the blood stream and/or lymph nodes, radiation is advised. In my case, the pathologist suspected that it had gotten into the blood stream, but my lymph nodes were clean. I am now undergoing 6 weeks of radiation and I just finished the 10th treatment of 28.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to uterine cancer?
Of course, I have slowed down a little, because of fatigue. But then again, I was anemic for so long, which also made me feel tired. So I don’t notice that I’m more tired than I have been all along. I’ve been slowly recovering from the surgery, trying to allow my abdomen to heal completely before getting back into glass cutting for the mosaics that I create. During the first few days of radiation I felt a little nauseous, but that has subsided. I do have a significant amount of diarrhea as a result of the radiation affecting my bowel, but I am eating a balanced, low-fiber diet along with daily Metamucil supplements to manage that problem.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
I have received a lot of support over the past several months, mostly from my husband, who took time off from work to help me after my surgery. My mother flew down for a visit from West Virginia to help out as well.
Does uterine cancer have any impact on your family?
It definitely affected my family, especially initially. I felt I was the “calm one” the first few days after they found out I had cancer. They were crying and afraid for me, but I tried to be strong and rational. When I was alone, I would sometimes cry and pray that my lymph nodes would be clear, letting out my negative feelings in private.
What advice would you give to anyone living with uterine cancer?
I can’t emphasize enough that you must push your doctor to do a D&C to test for uterine cancer if you’re having gynecologic issues such as irregular bleeding. The gynecologist in the hospital was appalled that I hadn’t had a D&C after 3 years of bleeding. Hormone therapy takes so long to regulate your cycle that you may lose precious time if you don’t investigate your condition thoroughly to treat any hidden cancers that may be growing.