Karen, Wales

My five really important lessons (from my diagnosis of womb cancer)

“We’ve found cancerous cells from your biopsy” – was the call I had from my consultant in August 2017. 

Unexplained or unusual bleeding I’d had a routine visit to my GP, a few weeks before, for a completely unrelated minor complaint. Whilst chatting I disclosed I’d had one small show about four months ago which was unusual as I’m postmenopausal but I felt really well, the best ever.  She decided to send me for a precautionary check up to see a gynaecologist.   

I was frustrated that this appointment got in the way of my rather busy, fast paced life and believed I was wasting both the consultants and my own time.  When they found two very large cysts, a small fibroid and an enlarged ovary, I was shocked and surprised.   How could I have had these growing inside me when I had no symptoms?  How could this be me, when I felt invincible and so healthy?  When my biopsy confirmed cancerous cells, an MRI was booked, a date given for a hysterectomy within two weeks and I had to start shutting down my life as I knew it.  

I was working full time as a psychotherapist in the NHS and running a busy private practice.  I had to then work hard to close down my caseloads and turn away patients as I didn’t know how long I would be out of action.   I’m a planner but couldn’t plan.   I didn’t know whether I’d be out of action for 6 weeks (if they could do keyhole surgery) or 12 weeks (if keyhole wasn’t possible) and would I need radiotherapy or chemotherapy afterwards?  It has been a real challenge bt has taught me so much. Here are my lessons I’ve learnt to date

Put myself first

We have a very wonderful large, loving family.  I have two daughters, three step children, six grandchildren and great friends.  All of them were distressed, wanted to see me, talk to me and spend time with me, trying to make me feel better.  On receiving my diagnosis, my home was flooded with flowers.  I wanted to keep my life normal, keep working for as long as possible before going in for my operation.  I didn’t want to be surrounded by everyone being distressed and my reality to be about cancer, procedures and continually talking about it. 

I kept asking myself what do I need right now and acted on it.  If I wanted to walk, spend time alone, go for a quiet meal with my husband, talk to loved ones, or cry then that’s what I did.   I didn’t put others needs before my own.   I asked my husband and some key close friends to communicate with others.  This was so helpful, so my whole life wasn’t completely taken over reassuring and updating others.  It was difficult but I kept my life as normal as possible.

Took responsibility for my own journey

I did research, spoke to others who had experienced the same procedure, joined a website and Facebook with others struggling with the gynaecological cancer.  This helped prepare me for appointments with the consultant, specialist nurses and NHS staff.  I then knew what questions to ask and what options were available.  I asked my consultant to do everything possible to see if she could do keyhole surgery.  This wasn’t the easiest option as she had to compress and remove each cyst individually, then conduct a full hysterectomy.  This has enabled me to have a 6-week recovery period, rather than a 12 week.

Staying positive

I focused on the best possible outcome.  There were times my mind went to ruminating about others who had lost their life from gynaecological cancers, or projecting to the future in a negative way.  As soon as I noticed my mind taking me in an unhelpful direction, I came up with a more positive story. 

My story was I’m a gladiator, I’m healthy, I’m fit, my recovery will be short, I will be an example of the best case.  I’ll teach my daughters, step-daughter, and granddaughters how to handle this.  This enabled me to stay as positive as I could be under the circumstances and not ruin my days worrying about something that might or might not happen.

Reflect on my future

I take time now to appreciate and have gratitude for our family, our friends, how much I love and am loved.   Accepting help from others isn’t easy for me, when I’ve spent my whole life being self-sufficient, not relying on others, but I appreciate every offer of help, even though if I was capable of doing something, then I’ve done it.

I’m taking time to create a better future; what is my work, family time, social activities, health going to look like, if I’m making the rest of my life the best of my life.

Seeing the people I love and care about happy, makes my heart truly smile, so I’ll be doing the best I can to spend time with our family.  My life is precious and I’m now much more mindful to appreciate whatever the day brings.

Know about gynaecological Cancers

These are silent, we don’t know that they’re there.  I always assumed that as my smear test came back clear that I was ok, which is so not the case.  My smear test came back clear two weeks before I was diagnosed.  There are five types of gynaecological cancers: cervical, womb, ovarian, vaginal and vulva and we might not know that we have them. 

On reflection, my symptoms were frequent urination and one small show of blood, with mild PMT type symptoms four months prior to diagnosis.  I’d urge every woman to get any small signs checked out, because you just don’t know.  Some signs and symptoms are:

Unexplained or unusual bleeding

Starting periods early

Long or heavy periods

Diabetes (a link to increased risk of certain cancers)

Having PCOS (polycystic ovaries)

It’s only been 21 days since my hysterectomy and my recovery has been best case to date.   I’m doing everything that I was before, except driving and lifting very heavy items.  I’m walking an hour a day, sometimes twice a day and back to normal socialising.  I feel normal and I’m back at work part time.  The indications are that I might not need any more treatment, but this will be advised in a few days time.   Whatever the eventual diagnosis, these lessons will stand me in good stead whatever life throws at me.  Maybe they’ll help you too?

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