My Story | Charlotte, Alaska, USA
I was 36, a wife, and a mother of three beautiful children ages 9, 14, and 15, when I started having abnormal bleeding in March of 1999. But unlike many women with endometrial cancer, I experienced painful cramping, backache, extreme fatigue, and unbelievable mood swings. I knew there was something very wrong, so, on the advice of a friend, I began seeing a male doctor, who, from day one, diagnosed me with a hormonal disturbance. Even though, as a nurse, I should have known better, I put this man on a pedestal simply because he held the title of MD. I believed his diagnosis, followed his advice, and began taking birth control pills to regulate my hormones.
When this doctor moved, I followed up with another doctor, a female this time. I began seeing her in August. She immediately performed a uterine biopsy, which was not only painful, but caused blood to gush as she performed the procedure. Of course this was very frightening to me, especially when I saw the look of fear in the doctor's eyes.
Three weeks later she called me at work to tell me that I had cancer, and, since I live in a very remote part of Alaska where only minimal health care services are available, I would need to fly into Anchorage the following week for a hysterectomy.
During the surgery, they performed biopsies at different sites to determine if the cancer had spread. Two days following my hysterectomy, I was told that since the cancer had entered my lymph system, I would need further treatment. I was fortunate that it had not gotten farther than my pelvic lymph nodes.
My surgeon recommended going to Seattle, but a friend in Oregon got information on an excellent treatment center there. Since I would be able to stay with her for the many weeks of treatment, two problems out of many were solved, and I decided to go to Oregon.
Arrangements had to be made. As the acting manager for my department had to arrange coverage, I had to decide whether my husband and children would go with me. If my husband came, we would have to pack up everything and completely relocate. This was not an option, so we decided my husband would remain in Alaska and my kids would go with me.
Initially, I was told to expect to be gone for approximately six weeks, but the oncologist and radiologist offered me the opportunity to participate in a study. This meant six weeks of radiation (internal and external) in conjunction with low-dose chemo. Following this, I would begin higher-dose chemo (taxol and carboplatin) every three weeks for another five months.
The radiation effects began after two weeks; diarrhea and burning with urination were the worst. I so-o-o looked forward to the last radiation treatment. Then began the chemo. They premedicated me, so nausea was minimal, but extreme fatigue, joint aches, and hair loss were ongoing. I was scheduled for several chemo treatments, but after number six, I was ready to give up. The distance between me and my husband, the side effects of the chemo, and the fear of losing my job, were taking their toll. My stepmother, offering support, urged me not to give up. I knew she was right, and from day one, I told myself that I could not die since I had to be here for my kids. My prognosis, a 50% chance of survival, sounded like a death sentence, so I prepared them for the worst. We cried, and shared memories and hopes for the future, mine as well as theirs.
My treatments were finally over March 23, 2000!! I wanted to go home so badly, but I did not have the strength to travel. We finally were able to leave on April 23. I certainly did not look the same as when I had left. On one occasion, I was taking a nap, and my husband actually took my pulse to see if I was alive! He was in a near-panic state. I had been through so much since he had last seen me that, to him, I must have looked like I was near death.
Now, on to the present. I am 16 months post treatment with no sign of recurrence. My last CT scan last June was clear. Having your mortality thrown in your face can really make you take a look at who you are and what you have accomplished in your life. So, since my illness, we have opened our home to foster children, and right now, we have four, from 17 months to ten years. Our biological children are now 11, 16, and 17. All of them are so special in their own ways.
Healthwise, I still find I am very tired, have a lot of pelvic cramping (probably bowel adhesions), and have had numerous urinary tract infections. I find I get very scared at the first sign of something wrong. Psychologically, I am so very thankful for being given more time to share with my family, but I still have many mixed emotions, and at times become depressed. Mostly because this awful thing called Cancer could come back, this time stronger, more aggressive, and harder to fight. But...I am a fighter. I must be for my family. I'll take each day as it comes and be thankful for all I have been given. You know, the flowers DO smell sweeter and the sky DOES look bluer when you take the time to notice.