Cancer anniversary – I was diagnosed a year ago

Cancer anniversary - I was diagnosed a year ago

I’ve had an important anniversary this week. It was a year ago, on Monday November 3, 2014 that I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

I’ve been thinking for a while if I should write something about my cancer. I don’t know if it’s something that people would be interested in but then when I found out about my cancer I wanted to know all about it. I googled “cervical cancer” almost daily, hoping to find positive survival stories and soon realized that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea:

A lot of people who write online about their cervical cancer – or cancer in general – have had bad experiences, things have not turned out so well. I suppose that people who make it through just continue with their lives and don’t write about it on the net.

So I decided to write this post about my cancer. Maybe someone will find it helpful when they go through same emotions that I went through this past year. Maybe this will give them hope that they too will be OK when it’s all done.

Finding out I have cancer

It was October 2014 when I went to my pap test. I had been going to one every other year for as long as I had been on contraceptive pill. I hated going to that test, not that I know of anyone who actually enjoys it!

The previous pap test two years back

I had had some cervical cancer symptoms for a few years: some occasional bleeding and sort of slimy discharge. I had been quite worried about it actually two years back and went to see an experienced gynecologist back then about it. She said that my cervix looked a bit mushy but it was because I had been on contraceptive pill for such a long time. I found that a bit weird but thought that she’s an expert and knows what she’s talking about. And when I received a letter a week or two later that said that my pap test was normal, I didn’t worry about it anymore.

Pap test in October 2014

Well, back to October 2014: the nurse who took my pap test said that my cervix doesn’t look normal. I said to her that yes, I know. A gynecologist had said that it looks mushy and that’s because of the contraceptive pills. The nurse didn’t seem convinced. She said that she hadn’t seen anything like that before.

A week later I got a phone call from another nurse. She told me that there had been some abnormal cells in my test and that I should come to a test called colposcopy (More information about colposcopy on FamilyDoctor site). I asked the nurse if I should be worried and she told me that this is routine and there’s probably nothing to worry about. We just have to see if I need any further treatment for these abnormal cells.

Colposcopy in November 2014

I went to the hospital for my colposcopy appointment on Monday 3 November 2014. I was greeted by a nurse and a doctor. The nurse was very kind. Before the actual test she told me about the Loop method that they may have to perform and she stroke my shoulder soothingly as I laid on my back during the procedure.

The doctor had only just started to examine me when she suddenly said: “Oh, there’s something here.” I laid there silently, thinking she’ll continue. But she didn’t. “What is it?”, I said. She turned the screen towards me and showed. It was a large smooth lump and the doctor was able to wiggle it with the instrument she had. The doctor told me that it was about 3 – 4 centimeters in size. I repeated the question. She replied by telling me that it was an adenocarcinoma cancer that has developed in a gland cell.

I closed my eyes and laid there silently. Cancer? Is there such a thing as harmless cancer? Does this mean I have cervical cancer? My thoughts seemed to have stopped and ran wild at the same time.

The nurse kept stroking my shoulder gently and asked quietly if everything is OK. I opened my eyes, smiled to her and nodded.

The doctor took a cell sample, it didn’t hurt at all as she had given me a local anesthetic. The doctor told me that the next step was to figure out whether they’d be able to save my womb. Thinking back I think it’s good that she said that at this point already so that I had time to adjust to the idea of losing it.

They were both, the doctor and the nurse, very empathic. They told me that they hadn’t expected this outcome either and understood that this must be a shock for me. They made sure that I have somebody to talk to when I leave the hospital.

And so I left. I had been surprisingly calm to this point but the tears came as I left the building. I couldn’t believe it. I rang my boyfriend and then I rang mum. I didn’t know anything about cervical cancer – I googled it as soon as I got home.

I went to work as usual the following day. Nobody from my team was at work that day, but I told a friend at work. It was the strangest day at work ever: I’d write reports and answer phone calls and then all of a sudden I’d stop working and remember Oh I have cancer.

Hysterectomy

The week went by so slowly. Exactly a week later I received a phone call from the doctor that had examined me. She said that as a part of my cervical cancer treatment they would have to remove my uterus in a surgery called hysterectomy. By that time I had already spoken with my boyfriend about it and was able to tell the doctor that it’s OK.

I had never been sure whether I wanted children or not but I guess I had still always thought that we’d have a child or two. At this point though I was very happy that it hadn’t been my or my boyfriend’s biggest dream in life to have a family. That’s not to say that it didn’t hurt to find myself in this position. Having to deal with the fact that I have cancer and that I won’t ever have children of my own felt overwhelmingly sad.

The doctor asked me if I’d be willing to have the operation that same week already, on Saturday. I didn’t hesitate at all – the sooner the better. So that turned out to be quite a week too – I had to have several blood tests, doctor appointments, MRI, CAT and electrocardiogram, all before the surgery. I had so many colorful post-it notes on my desk – trying to remember all that I had to do in such a short amount of time. I felt well taken care of.

And soon it was Friday. I didn’t really feel nervous about the operation but I still didn’t sleep much between Friday night and Saturday morning. Early on Saturday morning I took a metro and bus to the hospital by myself. I arrived there at seven o’clock. I felt good about the operation and everything went well. The hysterectomy was performed by a surgeon who was using a Da Vinci robot. They removed my uterus and a total of 51 lymph nodes. My boyfriend came to see me at the hospital that evening. I felt so tired.

I stayed at the hospital for two days and then got home. Walking was incredibly painful. I was home for 3 weeks after the surgery and those 3 weeks were certainly needed for recovery. I’ve read how people have been able to walk easily after the surgery but that wasn’t the case with me. I struggled to stand up straight and was able to walk very slowly around the block one week after the surgery.

Radiation and chemotherapy

While I was recovering from the surgery I got another phone call from the hospital. The pathologist had examined my uterus and lymph nodes and the results were in:

The pathologist had found a little bit of cancer both in the uterus and in 3 of the removed 51 lymph nodes. That meant that I would have to go through radiation therapy and chemotherapy. I knew beforehand that this was an option but the doctor had been optimistic – she had hoped that the surgery would have been enough.

Oh well, I thought. This was going to be a “proper” cancer experience then! All this might sound lighthearted, but I was trying to stay as positive as possible while I was also scared. At this point I also found out that my cervical cancer was classified adenocarsinoma, stage IB1, grade 1 (read more about stages of cervical cancer on National Cancer Institute site).

My radiation and chemotherapy treatment started after Christmas on 29 December 2014 and they lasted for 6 weeks. During that time, I had:

  • Radiotherapy on each weekday for six weeks, a total of 28 times
  • 6 sessions of chemotherapy, on every Tuesday for six weeks (a chemotherapy drug called cisplatin)
  • Blood tests on every Monday for six weeks

At first I had thought that I’d be able to go to work during the treatment but the doctor was able to convince me to stay at home. I am so glad I listened to her. The drug for chemotherapy, cisplatin, was nasty. I felt so unwell each Tuesday night and the feeling lasted almost all week – I only started to feel better just as it was time for another dose. I was taking three different drugs for nausea but I still felt nauseous. And very very tired.

Other than that those two months went by quickly. I got into a new routine of going to the cancer clinic every day. Meeting the same nice people working there. Talking with the other patients about their experiences with cancer. It sounds strange but I felt a little empty when those visits ended after 6 weeks.

I stayed another week or two at home after this and then returned to work hoping that everything was finally OK.

hysterectomy and radiotherapy

Complications after cancer

It wasn’t exactly OK. The first day I went to work, I didn’t feel very well and I ended up going to the doctor and to the hospital the same night. I had fever and very high C-reactive protein. I stayed in the hospital for 10 days as the doctors weren’t sure what was wrong with me. They tried different antibiotics but they didn’t work in the beginning. Eventually they found out that I have a seroma (or a lymphatic cyst, we don’t really know what it was but it was a complication from hysterectomy) in my pelvis and there was an infection in that seroma. They found the right antibiotics and I was able to continue taking the antibiotics at home.

This happened again after several weeks and I was back at hospital. Another infection at the seroma, another 10 days at the hospital. My blood results were a mess too and I had anemia after the chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, between these two hospital visits I had another problem with the same seroma. My left leg was swollen and I had four visits to the X-ray for ultrasound. On the fourth visit they found what they were looking for: a deep vein thrombosis in my left thigh. It turned out that the seroma was located so that it pressed on the vein that goes to my left leg and this caused the swelling and blood clot.

I’ve now been injecting blood thinners and wearing compression socks for the past 6 months and I can stop the injections in a couple of days. Finally!

Current situation with complications

I just had another ultrasound examination which showed that the seroma is gone! I can’t believe it after all this trouble that it caused, it’s finally gone.

My leg is now less swollen and I also had some swelling in my lower abdomen, which has pretty much disappeared thanks to manual lymphatic drainage massage that I’ve had for 10 sessions so far.

My blood test results are back to normal.

Feelings

This year has been quite emotional.

The thing with cancer is that your feelings will be go up and down like a roller coaster. One day you’ll feel like everything is OK, while on another day you’ll be crying your eyes out. It’s difficult to explain but I’m sure people that have been through this can relate.

Another thing is that at least in my case I felt quite healthy – but then at the same time there’s cancer inside that could potentially kill me. If feels strange.

And I’ve got people around me to worry about. Sometimes I’ve felt that the fact that I have a cancer has been mentally easier for me than to my loved ones. That’s because I know what’s happening, I’ve got a feeling of some kind of control and I know how I feel. My family: boyfriend, mum, dad and brother must have felt like they don’t really know how to help, what to do. I know for sure that had this happened to my mum I would have been much more worried about the whole thing than I was now that it happened to me.

When I was going through radio and chemotherapy I was just counting the days, thinking that once I’m done with the treatment, I’ll be fine. When I was finally done, I wasn’t feeling fine. After the last radiotherapy session the nurse asked how I planned to celebrate. “By sleeping” was my reply. I didn’t feel like celebrating, I didn’t feel happy, I was just tired and empty and I felt like I’ll never be the same person that I was before. I remember thinking that everything has changed. I don’t really remember why I felt that way, I just remember repeating to myself that nothing will ever be the same.

Conclusion

I don’t know why I got cervical cancer, there’s no answer for that. When it comes to cervical cancer we all know that it’s usually caused by Human papillomavirus, which most women get at some point during their lifetime. Our immune system should be able to fight the abnormal cells from turning into cancer, but for some reason my immune system was weaker.

If you are diagnosed with cancer – just know that it isn’t the end of the world. Many cancers can be treated very well today. For me, it’s been just a year after the diagnosis so I don’t know about the future. Right now, I’m healthy and I think that’s something I take away from this experience: will and determination to be healthier in the future.

I’m not running marathons or doing other dramatic changes that some cancer survivors do – at least not yet :), but I am making changes that will hopefully help me fight the cancer from recurring. I’ve just finished Whole30 (my results) and I’m planning to start exercising more: Small changes that will hopefully have a big impact in the long run.

The only advise I can really give when it comes to cervical cancer is that everyone should go to the pap test screening regularly. It’s not fun but it can save your life. And if the doctor says that everything is OK but you still feel that something’s wrong, always get a second opinion.

Right now I’m quite happy. When it comes to cancer, I’m very happy. I can live with my slightly swollen leg, it’s no big deal. If that’s the only reminder (along with the small scars on my stomach) I’ll have from cancer, that’s perfectly fine.

And I feel like me again.

Have you or has your loved one had cancer? How have you coped with it?

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