Survivor since 2005
Prior to October 2005, what I thought I knew about cancers of the female reproductive system was that they were all about the same, and all bad. What I now know is that if a woman has to have cancer, Endometrial (aka uterine) cancer, if diagnosed early, is not such a bad thing.
I was 50, not yet menopausal, when I experienced 6 weeks of almost non-stop vaginal bleeding. I talked to several friends who’d gone through menopause, to see if this was something they’d experienced, and no one mentioned that it could be a sign of uterine cancer. My doctor agreed that it was probably menopause-related, but to be on the safe side he would do an endometrial biopsy. I hesitated to spend the money, and almost didn’t do it, but fortunately I decided to go for it. I think he was as surprised as I when the results showed cancer, meaning that I would need to have a hysterectomy.
While I was anxiously awaiting my surgery and learning everything I could about endometrial cancer, it was not reassuring to learn that 1/6 of women who get it die of it. The key to my happy outcome was early diagnosis. Therefore, it’s alarming that no women I’ve talked to are aware that unexplained bleeding is a sign of possible endometrial cancer.
Further tests showed that things had progressed far enough that I would need an abdominal hysterectomy, rather than the less invasive vaginal hysterectomy, so that the gynecologist could see the entire abdominal cavity and be sure he got everything out of there. I heard many horror stories about long recoveries from abdominal hysterectomies, but in my case, I bounced back as quickly as I had from similar surgery when I had an ovarian cyst removed at the age of 22. They removed my remaining ovary and my cervix along with my uterus, and since I wasn’t using any of them, it felt good to be rid of them. During my 3 days in the hospital, the only roommate I had was a very down-to-earth woman who’d survived breast cancer and was in to have her other breast removed, because “she was tired of being lopsided”. Neither of us had any feelings of being “less of a woman” because of missing some body parts.
Within 3 days of the surgery, menopause hit literally overnight. I started having hot flashes, and my feet suddenly started getting cold at night. (The hot flashes have eased off after 3 years, but the cold feet are with me for good. I have a nice collection of bed socks, which do the trick.) I also suddenly had elevated blood pressure, after having had low blood pressure all my life. The nice thing was that I knew it was menopause and not just in my head. I have brought my blood pressure under control with a combination of reducing salt and adding magnesium in my diet (as well as magnesium in pill form), and taking vitamin B-6 as a diuretic. The magnesium also helps ward off osteoporosis, along with the 1500mg of calcium and 1000mg of Vitamin D which I take daily.
My cancer turned out to be both estrogen and progesterone dependent. Therefore, I certainly can’t use estrogen cream for the vaginal dryness that became a problem after the surgery. But my gynecologist says that estriol (as opposed to estadiol) cream is safe to use, and that’s helped a lot. Estriol is available from compounding pharmacies and on the web.
After the hysterectomy, I spent 2 weeks at home, (the most relaxing vacation I’d had in years) and was completely recovered after 6 weeks. No radiation or chemotherapy was needed because the surgery was so successful at getting rid of all the bad stuff. The gynecologist who’d done the hysterectomy did a pelvic exam every 3 months for the next 2 years, and did pap smears every 3 months for the first year, to confirm that there were no tissue abnormalities indicating the return of the cancer, and after 3 years, all is well.