My Story | Teresa S., Pennsylvania, USA
It was late October, 1997. My husband and I, and our two daughters, were excited about the trip we had planned to California on November 3. But before I went, I decided to call my gynecologist because I had some troubling symptoms. I was having low pelvic pain and an unusual discharge; then one day I went to the restroom at work and found blood, although I was not having my menstrual cycle. I came back to my desk thinking that this was very odd.
Though I was scheduled for my annual gynecological checkup in late December, something was telling me I better contact my doctor before I went to California. I called her on Friday and scheduled an appointment for the following Tuesday. When I got there, she told me I shouldn't go to California with the symptoms I was having. She thought I had some fibroid tumors, very common in women my age (I was 38). She wanted to do a D & C (dilation and curettage) the next day.
When I woke up in the hospital recovery room after the procedure, my doctor came over to my bedside with a funny look on her face. She said my uterus had an unusual thickening, that it was either pre-cancer or cancer, and that I would probably need a hysterectomy which would put me into surgical menopause.
My head started reeling. I had thought it was just a fibroid! She told me she would call me the following Monday to give me the results before I left for vacation. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to call one of those prerecorded Tel-Med messages to hear the symptoms of uterine cancer. I didn't have a single one.
Just two days later, on Friday, my girlfriend at work took me out to lunch to keep my mind off things. As I was walking back to the office, I had a terrible feeling that something bad was about to happen. Sure enough, there was a note on my phone telling me that my gynecologist had phoned. I knew if she was calling so soon, it wasn't good news. When I called her office, the nurse told me she was with a patient. As soon as she heard my name, though, she said, "Oh, hold on. She needs to talk to you right now. I'll interrupt her."
Then, sitting at my desk at work all by myself, I got the worst news that you can get. She told me it was indeed cancer, and a very aggressive one. I would need to see a specialist immediately as it may have already traveled to my lymph nodes and lungs. She gave me the name and address of a gynecologic oncologist and told me to call him immediately. I felt as if all the blood had run out of me. I couldn't find anyone in my office for about ten minutes, and finally my girlfriend came back in and I told her. I just kept saying, "She told me it could be in my lungs; I don't want to die yet."
The oncologist said he could see me that afternoon, so I called my husband and asked him to take me over. I remember my mouth being very dry as I filled out the forms mechanically. The doctor wanted to examine me, and as he felt around my stomach, he was saying that things looked hopeful. He wanted to operate immediately, telling me that I had better cancel my vacation because I would need to go to the hospital on Monday for a CT (computed tomography) scan to see if the cancer spread. I would also need additional preliminary tests before I could have the surgery on Wednesday.
So, instead of leaving for a vacation in California, I was now scheduled for a radical hysterectomy. In one week's time, my whole world was turned upside down. That weekend was the longest of my life. I had the tests on Monday and then had another very long night waiting until Tuesday to get the results of the CT scan. Every time the phone rang, I jumped. I knew this would be one of the most important phone calls I ever received. When the doctor finally called, he said the cancer appeared to be confined to the uterus, but he would carefully examine all my organs during the operation. I was to have the surgery at 11:00 a.m. but they didn't take me until 5:00 p.m. Needless to say, it was a long day just laying there, waiting to be wheeled into surgery.
As I went into surgery, I remember asking them to please, get it all, because I wanted to see my two daughters (age 13 and 16) grow up. About five days later, I learned the 20+ lymph nodes they removed all came back negative. But since it was an aggressive cancer, I would need six weeks of external radiation therapy as well as three internal radiation treatments. The cancer had gone through 40% of my uterine wall. If it had reached 50%, it could have had the ability to travel to other places in the body. If I had waited until after my vacation to see my gynecologist at my scheduled appointment in December, the cancer may well have spread.
Having that vacation scheduled probably saved my life. I had my radiation, and for four years have been cancer-free. But it has changed my life. Everything happened so fast that it took me awhile to accept it. I had panic attacks, and needed to see a psychiatrist who put me on medication to get me through that first year. I also talked to a psychologist during my radiation treatments. Even though four years have passed, I still anxiously hope for a good report from my oncologist every six months.
Having cancer makes you reevaluate your entire life by forcing you to recognize what is important. It changes you physically, emotionally, as well as spiritually. Now that I have this valuable new perspective of what is really important, I want to live a long life to be able to take full advantage of it.