My Story | Nicole B., Texas, USA
Uterine cancer, stage 3c
Diagnosed March 2003 at 25
Radical hysterectomy, chemotherapy, radiation
My name is Nicole. I led a fairly normal life until the age of 21 when I started having very irregular periods. I kept in close contact with my gynecologist, who told me I was normal and put me on birth control pills. For the next couple of years I coped with the irregular bleeding and pain on my right side. At first the symptoms were not so bad - I actually got used to them. Since my doctor didn't think anything was wrong, I went on with my life.
By the time I was 25, the pain became unbearable and I had horrible bleeding along with excruciating cramps. At one point, after a trip to the emergency room, I was told I had a lemon-sized cyst on my right ovary. I just knew something was wrong so I finally got my nerve up to ask my doctor to do a laparoscopy. Trying to ease my mind, he suggested having an ultrasound first. Hesitantly, I agreed.
At the radiologist's office, I was cleaning up in the rest room after the nurse had given me the exam. While in there, I overheard her on the phone, asking for the doctor himself. I immediately knew something was up, so I just sat there, listening, while the nurse, in a voice as low as she could make it, asked the doctor to come into the exam room. I was especially worried since I had been told before the exam that I would have to wait three days for the results!
When I came out of the restroom, I found the doctor standing with the nurse. He asked me to lie down, and I did, heart pounding and all. He performed the ultrasound himself! He had this look on his face and finally asked me, "Have you been in pain?" I told him yes, and that while I hated to admit it, I had grown used to it. That's when he informed me that I had a football-sized tumor across my uterus, connected to the right side of my pelvic wall. He called my gynecologist on the phone in front of me and told him of the findings. He also told me to see my gynecologist right away.
The gynecologist assured me that there was no way this tumor could be cancer - I was too young. He said that it was probably an unusually large, but common, teratoma that would have to be surgically removed. So, one week later I was scheduled for the operation.
After my surgery, while still groggy, I remember the team holding up a bag with a large pink thing in it and I remembered I had asked to see the tumor. Three days later, while my best friend was visiting, the doctor came in with a peculiar look on his face. "Nicole," he said, "it's cancer." Instantly my friend started crying. I just sat there in shock. I remember asking her to call my mom and dad, who were on the way to the hospital. I didn't break down until my mom walked in and patted me on the head. Then we both lost it.
The initial diagnosis was advanced ovarian cancer; the prognosis was dismal. The doctor advised my mother and sister to have hysterectomies as soon as possible as a precaution. But I sensed something was not right once again and I began to do research.
I contacted a comprehensive cancer center and got in right away. After hearing my symptoms, the doctor ordered a uterine biopsy. The results indicated uterine cancer, NOT ovarian cancer after all. I asked what was next and quickly found out: I was to have a radical hysterectomy and staging in one week, just two and one-half weeks after the first surgery! I was ready, though; I just wanted the crud out of me. Even though I knew I never would be able to bear children after the hysterectomy, I knew I needed it in order to live.
After the surgery, the surgeon told my parents and me that a few things did not look good, but they would have to wait for test results for a final staging. The final pathology results came in: two of two para-aortic lymph nodes were positive for cancer, as was the omentum, so I was staged at 3c. I would need radiation and chemotherapy.
After a few weeks, I started my extended field radiation, along with two cycles of cisplatin and steroids. I was very, very sick - and the steroids made me a less-than-nice person on top of everything else. After the external radiation treatments were over, I completed my internal radiation therapy and decided I needed to be closer to my home, so I got my orders transferred to a nearby facility where I continued on taxol and carboplatin along with the dreaded steroids. I was a MESS! I had no hair, no feeling, and was meaner than hell. It was awful. I completed six rounds, but, because of the side effects, had to be switched to taxotere in the end. I finished my last chemo in October of 2003 and one month later, a colon polyp turned up pre-cancerous. YIKES! What's next?
Assuring me that the polyp was completely removed, the doctor told me that we would have to stay on top of the game. So that's what I'm doing. I agreed to be in a research study to see if I might have the HNPCC (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) gene, but I doubt that I carry it. I will soon find out. What I DO have that I didn't have before are scars and curly hair. I also have my LIFE! And that, my friends, is the most important thing. I know the battle isn't over yet, but I'm a stubborn mule for a reason. I will fight and win - one way or another - besides, there is NO cancer in heaven.