To say that being diagnosed with cancer is bloody scary would be a gross\nunderstatement. It’s like being hit in the head with a hammer and\nsimultaneously being kicked in the nuts, although in this case it might be more\nfitting to describe it as a kick in the uterus!
\n\nI was first alerted to something being wrong in late summer of 2018 when my\nperiods got very painful.
\n\nHowever, this wasn’t the first change to my periods: about 18 months or so\nbefore I went to the doctor, my periods had been getting heavier and longer.\nBut these changes were gradual, and I put them down to my age and changes in\nhormonal balance. I thought maybe I was heading towards an early menopause,\nespecially as I occasionally used to get what I thought were hot flushes. I\nknow better now that I have experienced what real hot flushes are like. I also\nnow know that any changes to periods, gradual or not, can be a sign of womb\ncancer. But I had no idea then.
\n\nThe pain prompted me to see a doctor. There are several doctors who work at\nmy GP and I chose the one who specialises in women’s health. I’d heard stories\nof doctors not looking deeper into the causes of changes to periods but just\nprescribing the pill or a coil, and I thought that perhaps someone specialised\nin the field would be more likely to investigate the cause.
\n\nI was right. She said before we decide what to do about the long and heavy\nperiods, she would refer me to a gynaecologist. In the meantime, she prescribed\nme medication to help with the pain and heavy bleeding. They didn’t work. What\nworked best for me at this point were painkillers called Feminax Express.\nNormal painkillers worked, too, but I had to take more of them as they were not\nas strong.
\n\nFrom the initial appointment with my GP, it took nearly three months for my\ngynaecologist appointment in which they could tell that I had a thickened\nlining in my womb. Since they couldn’t tell more from this examination, they\nreferred me for a hysteroscopy. This time I had to wait about a month for the\nappointment by which time my periods had got even longer and I was having pain\neven when I wasn’t bleeding. I was having to take pain killers every day.
\n\nDuring the hysteroscopy, the gynaecologist took a biopsy, and then we waited\nagain. Not so long this time, though. When it was time to get my results, I\nasked my partner Justin to come with me. Initially, I was going to go alone to\nthe appointment to get the results, but I had a gut feeling that I would not\nlike the news. I’m so bloody glad Justin came with me.
\n\nThe moment my doctor mentioned the word cancer, I could think of nothing\nelse. The word bounced around my brain, leaving no space for anything else\nexcept: I can’t have cancer! I don’t want to die! Because, let’s face it, we\nstill associate the disease with death despite the progress made in treating\nit.
\n\nEventually I focused on what he was telling me again: I would need to have a\nhysterectomy and possibly further treatment after the surgery. OK, hysterectomy\nI could handle, especially as after I got home I Googled uterine cancer and to\nmy delight read that hysterectomy is often the only treatment needed to remove\nthe disease. For now, I’d focus on getting through the surgery and then deal\nwith the rest. Hoping that there wouldn’t be ‘the rest’ to deal with.
\n\nWhen I got home, I had to make the hardest phone calls ever to tell my\nfamily what was going on. How do you tell your parents and your sister and\nbrother that you have cancer? I’m afraid I was quite blunt; I just blurted it\nout. But then, I was crying from the word go, so they knew something was wrong\nstraight away. And what made it harder was that all my family is still in\nFinland (I moved here 25 years ago) and during times like this you want your\nfamily close.
\n\nThey were ready to come over whenever needed and my sister came over for a\nfew days before the surgery and my parents when I got out of the hospital. And\nof course, I had my partner by my side the entire time!
\n\nI still can’t believe how quickly everything proceeded after the diagnosis.\nIn less than two weeks after seeing my doctor, I was getting ready for the\nsurgery. I was, as everyone would be, nervous about the surgery but knew that I\nhad an excellent, experienced surgeon specialised in oncology. He, and all the\nother staff at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, were nothing short of amazing.
\n\nThe dedication, the positivity and the care of all the staff throughout my\nstay at the hospital was incredible. It made me fully realise how lucky I am to\nlive in a country with free health care and such amazingly devoted nurses and\ndoctors.
\n\nWhen my surgeon came to see me he explained that he had done a long cut from\nunderneath the naval to nearly my breastbone to remove the tumour and all the\ninfected lymph nodes. I was in a such a drowsy state that it wasn’t until a\ncouple of days later when he came to see me again that I fully understood the\nextent of the surgery. No wonder every move I made hurt like hell!
\n\nMy surgery was on a Friday and they let me go home on Monday since I could\nget to the toilet on my own and my bladder and bowels worked ok. I lost count\nof how many times they asked me about my bowel movements.
\n\nMy hopes of hysterectomy being the end of the treatments crashed when I saw\nmy surgeon two weeks after the operation. He is amazing at what he does in the\noperating theatre, but his people skills are not on par.
\n\nEven though he mentioned again that the operation went well and they got the\ndisease out, he then launched into an explanation of how my cancer was of a\nrare, aggressive type more commonly seen in women over sixty. Then dropped the\nother C-bomb: chemotherapy.
\n\nHe told me I would need several courses of chemo followed by radiation. It\ndidn’t make matters any better that he would not give me a clear prognosis;\ninstead he said something about it being hard to tell whether I would be in the\none-in-ten group that make it. He said he’d know more after I’d gone through\nthe chemo and radiotherapies.
\n\nNot surprisingly, I thought there was only a 10 percent chance of surviving.\nThe thoughts of death I’d had after the initial diagnosis made a quick\ncomeback.
\n\nMy opinion of his communication skills did not improve when, a few weeks\nlater, I received a copy of a letter he had sent to my GP. In that he mentioned\nthat the patient, that being me, became very upset during the appointment. Too\nright I did! Who wouldn’t when being told they have a very aggressive, rare\ncancer! I bet there would not be many who could receive that news with a stiff\nupper lip and a poker face.
\n\nLuckily, I also met the oncologist who was going to be in charge of my\nchemotherapy and radiation treatments at the Royal Marsden in Chelsea. I have\nsince discovered that she is the Head of Clinical Oncology at Royal Marsden, so\nI couldn’t have been in better hands. She made me feel better and more hopeful.
\n\nShe emphasised the fact that the operation had gone very well and there were\nno signs of disease left. She also explained that the purpose of the therapy\nwas to prevent the tumour from coming back or metastasising. Because she emphasised\nthat there was no visual evidence of the cancer, I could leave the hospital\nfeeling more positive.
\n\nMy six courses of chemo weren’t too bad. I lost my hair and had trouble with\nlow platelet counts, but other than that I did not have serious side-effects.\nRadiotherapy got me harder. The fatigue that hit me after about ten sessions of\nradiotherapy was nothing I had experienced before. However much I rested and\nslept, I was still constantly tired. It has taken months to rebuild my energy\nlevels, but I’m getting there.
\n\nMy experience has left me with the desire to spread awareness of womb cancer\nso that more women would know to see a doctor earlier than I did. Had I known\nthe symptoms, I would have known to see my doctor sooner and the cancer would\nnot have had the chance to spread outside the womb. When womb cancer is\ndiagnosed at stage one, the survival rate is around 90-95% depending on the\nsource. At stage three, the rate drops to about 50%. So early diagnosis, like\nwith all cancers, saves lives.
\n\nThe main symptom of womb cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding. This includes\nany changes to periods or bleeding between periods. It also includes any\nvaginal bleeding after menopause.
\n\nSymptoms other than abnormal bleeding can include:
\n\n- watery or bloody vaginal discharge
\n\n- long lasting bloated or swollen tummy
\n\n- feeling full quickly or loss of appetite
\n\n- pain in the lower tummy or pelvis most of the time
\n\n- peeing more often than usual or more urgently
\n\n- diarrhoea or constipation
\n\n- back pain
\n\n- feeling tired all the time
\n\nRemember, having any of these symptoms, even abnormal vaginal bleeding,\ndoesn’t mean that you definitely have womb cancer. However, you should always\nhave abnormal bleeding investigated.
\n\nYou can read more about my experiences in my blog Cycling for Cancer\n(https://cyclingforcancer.co.uk/ ). You’ll also be able to follow our (my\npartner and I) preparation for an epic cycle ride across Europe in Agust 2021\nto raise money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.