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My Story | Florence D., Pennsylvania, USA

Cervical adenocarcinoma, Stage 1b
Radical hysterectomy, ovaries removed, external & internal radiation

Life after the Cone

I want to share my story with you. In my late 40's, about ten years ago, I received a bad pap test (CIN III, severe dysplasia) that resulted in a colposcopy, and then conization, where a wedge-shaped or cone cut removes the lesion from the cervix. The pathology report showed the margins were clear, meaning that the edges of the cone were cancer-free.

My gynecologist reassured me that all was well. Four years later I had another bad pap and subsequent conization after a diagnosis of CIS (carcinoma in situ). Again my doctor reported good results and clear margins. I asked myself what had I done to bring this on. The answer was, "Nothing."

After the second diagnosis, I prepared for battle, and sought alternative ways to reverse the dysplasia. I looked for information on complementary medicine. For three months I used chaparral, an herb traditionally used to purify the blood and to relieve arthritis pain. I drank Bancha tea three times a day. I juiced carrots. An oncologist-biochemist duo team did an immune screening of my blood that showed a shortage of killer cells and T-cells (who knew we have killer cells?). The team urged me to have surgery and to adopt a healthy diet, including fresh vegetables and fruits, whole foods rather than supplements, and large amounts of folic acid and marine carotenes.

While driving one day, I realized that the pain in my right hand had disappeared. Turning right had been painful, and now it wasn't. Was it the chaparral that did it?

The second surgery pathology report was a thrill to read. I had invested my soul and self-discipline to reverse that diagnosis. The second cone path report read "microscopic cells" rather than big-time cancer, margins clear. While my gynecologist/surgeon insisted that diet had little to do with fighting cancer, I believed it to be essential, and continued with the natural supplements.

Life was good; I felt well. I was in good shape and had a major personal triumph when I competed in a national league tournament. My marketing job was fun, but hectic. The job caught me getting a little crazy, a little stressed. Busy was what I always was. Menopause in my 50's was smoother with Premarin, an estrogen hormone replacement. At age 55, I replaced Premarin with PremPro, a combo of estrogen and progesterone. When my gynecologist recommended getting off hormone replacement, I did stop for a while. But two months without it, and I couldn't live with myself. I couldn't sleep, and I was irritable. I had hot flashes. During that period, I tried to open a sticky kitchen window with a hammer, bludgeoning the frame with such force that I amazed myself. I was out of control.

Five years later it's '99, and wow! out of the blue, I saw a drop of blood on my white underpants while in an airport ladies room. The next week I was in the doctor's office for a pap test. And two weeks after that, I had an endometrial biopsy, a daunting, painful experience. The diagnosis was a strange word, "adenocarcinoma, poorly differentiated cells, of unknown location -- cervical or endocervical." I remember my doctor saying, "Well, if you have to have cancer, cervical's about the best cancer to have. It can be handled with a hysterectomy and your chances for a cure are 95%." Then the gynecologist referred me to the surgeon who gave me the real news, saying, "Seventy-five per cent is more realistic, and let's see what we find when we go in."

I prepared for surgery with counsel from the complementary health center where I had gone years before. CoEnzymeQ10, carotenes, red fruits (containing lycopenes), wheat grass tablets, vitamins E and C, and carrot juicing were suggested. This regimen was recommended to prevent the side effects of general anesthesia, and to promote recovery.

Radical hysterectomy followed. The percentages slid to 63% with the path report of "lymphatic vascular invasion." But luckily, my nodes were negative (who knew about lymph node dissection?). I recovered well from the surgery, better than most would at age 57, and was starting to feel more like me. But at my check up, I heard the word "radiation". Did that mean that I hadn't been cured? Wasn't it enough that all my female organs had been removed? What happened to that 75% cure rate?

Radiation was recommended to prevent recurrence. My surgeon referred me to his colleague, a radiation oncologist. Dr. L. supported her case for radiation with clinical trial results and her published papers. Just as important, here was a woman doctor who talked straight, loved her work, and hugged me as I sobbed in her office.

The thought of radiation was scary. I had done my homework on the net, exploring the side effects - stenosis (what??), bowel and urinary problems (for life?), lymphedema (what??), fatigue, etc. During a post-surgery meeting at the complementary cancer treatment center, my anxiety grew to an all-time high. After spending two hours with Susan and Caroline, the director and oncology nurse, I realized there was more to know about radiation. They gave meanings to "stenosis" and "lymphedema," "fistula," and "morbidity." I could tell that they weren't all that pleased with my leaning toward radiation. No matter what I chose, they told me they would support me. Sensing my indecision, they recommended a medical psychologist who could guide me to find my "inner truth."

I met Lee, a psychologist who specialized in pain management and self-discovery techniques. During our first visit, she scanned my energy fields, stopping at trouble spots, asking me questions about trauma, crises, bad periods in my life. She wanted to determine the age at which I had experienced the most pain. Lee taught me visualization techniques in which white rabbits (white cells) were multiplying rapidly and eating black cancer cells. And there were angels too. I visualized angels who would hover around me during radiation. They would protect me and guide the rays only to the cancer cells. These sessions were mysterious, cathartic, and calming. I determined that I could tolerate radiation, would rely on visualization, and would drink a gallon of water a day.

Six weeks of radiation must have hammered the nodes.

The final insult was a persistent swelling in my lower torso. In one month I gained ten pounds. But why? I thought I was all better. But it was a new wrinkle -- lymphedema. A great doctor at a major cancer center diagnosed and prescribed 24 treatments of manual lymph drainage, lessons in breathing, bandaging, exercises to support the abdomen, fitting of compression garments (to be worn daily), and self-massage.

A decade has passed since the first bad pap. I got two warnings. But did I learn from them? Not until now. Life gets very simple when cancer threatens to kill you. The good part is that I learned:

  • Don't dodge the signs; fix them. A bad pap test offers you a chance to re-gear your body and spirit

  • Too much estrogen (in the form of synthetic hormones) for too long (seven years) may have caused an imbalance in my system.

  • Cervical disease may be slow growing, taking years to manifest itself.

  • Recovery took longer than I expected.

  • My immune system is precious and deserves respect. I can preserve it by watching my diet, by breathing fresh air, and by exercising. I try to blow off insults and shame-producing comments, such as: "Why do you wear those stockings in this 90 degree weather? Aren't they awfully hot?"

  • My mind and body are connected. Positive self-talk got me through radiation. It boosted my white cell count.

  • I must take time to be quiet.

  • And last, if my body complains, it's telling me something that may help me (even if it's just aging gracefully)!

 

March 2001

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