This journey has been surreal. Cancer is a hidden thing. You usually don’t even know anything is wrong. Some small abnormality prompts a visit to a doctor and then life as you know it changes forever.
I had an abnormal pap smear. That led to a gynecologist who attempted a biopsy. They found a cervical tumor which blocked the entrance to the uterus. That began a round of new doctor visits, one a gynecological oncologist and the other a radiologist.
The tumor was 7 centimeters in size.The doctors decided it would not benefit me to have surgery and opted for chemo and radiation treatments. Previously, I had been home bound, exercising and trying to gain more strength. When this happened, I was thrust into daily visits to the Harrington Cancer Center. I started 5 weeks of treatments. Once a week I had chemo and every day monday through friday, I received radiation treatments.
This happened so quickly I didn’t really seem to have time to think about anything. I remember not being surprised or distressed by the word “cancer”. I think I already knew in the back of my mind it was a probability. I had had some intermittent spotting for almost a year, but with other medical issues and mobility issues had put that on the back burner.
The treatments seemed easy. For one thing, my chemo was a mild version, just to contribute and enhance the radiation treatments. The side effects all took about 3 weeks to really manifest. I had some nausea and considered myself fortunate I didn’t have vomiting. My radiation was aimed at my pelvis and the cervical tumor, but also radiated parts of the bladder and rectum. I had internal “sunburn” with possible blistering. This caused much discomfort in urinating which was exacerbated by my catheter. I also experienced tremendous changes in my bowel system. The doctor kept asking if I had trouble with diarrhea, but my problem was huge buildup of gas internally and in constipation.
I would be relatively normal during the week, but by the weekends, when I was eager for rest and wanting to enjoy staying home, I would experience the nausea, gas pains and bloating, pain in the pelvic area and would be pretty much a miserable person. Sometimes I felt like I was on the outside watching these events happen to someone else and was unsure how to act.
Later, mood swings came into play. I’m long past menopause so these were unexpected and very disconcerting. All small things, small symptoms, small irritants, but when you add them all up together, they can be debilitating. I was on so many prayer lists and totally covered in prayer, it added to the surreal feeling, or lack of feeling I experienced. I still don’t know how to think about this.
I finished my first 5 weeks of treatments. I then had 5 more “mega” radiation treatments; more concentrated and aimed tightly at the remnants of the tumor which had shrunk by about half. The doctors feel this is all good and that this type of cancer is almost 100% cured by radiation treatments. After the mega treatments were done, I was told to come back in about a month. I felt like I had been released from day-to-day treatments to being on my own again, alone and at home again, not knowing quite what happened to me.
That’s when the side effects got worse, catching up to me, I guess. So the following two weeks were the worst and I was not having treatments and was alone to cope. It caused a lot of emotional turmoil. I am getting better, gotten off of most of the pain medication and nausea medicine. I feel more like my normal once again, but still not quite there. There are residual emotional days. I think about what happened, what’s next, and is this journey really over.
I have to leave the chemo port in place in my chest for 2 years and go every 6 weeks to have it flushed out. I dread leaving the house again. All that happened to me has caught up with me and I just want to hibernate and hide once again. I have to wait 3 months after radiation treatments to have another PET scan.That scan “lights up” areas in your body that are cancerous or have infections. It will tell if there are any more cancer cells left. So, adding to the surreal journey, is now the wait until February to see if I am finished.
This has been difficult. On one hand, I feel quite lucky. My cancer was stage one and is an easily treatable one. On the other hand, I have so many other medical and mobility issues that caused all of this to be more difficult. My chemo was mild, others have a really difficult time. Am I in total denial, or just totally covered in prayer and God’s Grace? The mood swings and the emotional junk that surfaced from time to time caused almost as much trauma as the physical symptoms I had to cope with. I still am not totally back to my normal, but getting really close.
The emotional junk has caused me to withdraw again and I have been reluctant to share much about my journey. I felt like a wimp when I had to cope with my symptoms realizing many had worse, but I wouldn’t want to go through any of it again. That is a small fear in the back of my mind…that the cancer might not be gone and I would have to do this again. I’m not sure I can. You can do a lot in ignorance, but once you have experienced the treatment that makes you feel worse than you have ever felt in your life, it is not something you want to repeat.
I’ll keep you posted. It will probably be February after the PET scan when I will know more of what is to happen. See you then.