My Cancer Story: The Diagnosis

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D and C

During our period years, a bit of  spotting is usually no big deal.

But when that blob of blood comes in menopause, the panic siren sounds.

I saw my first bit of blood in October, for  a day. I panicked, somewhat, but decided to wait for more blood to appear before I went to the doctor  (which of course I shouldn’t have done and don’t you dare do!)

Next occurrence was January.

I knew I couldn’t ignore it again.

“All bleeding after menopause is abnormal and cause for concern,” website after website warned me. (But only one in eight cases ends up being cancer, the websites also said.)

At my first appointment, the technician conducted a  vaginal ultrasound.

“We couldn’t see your endometrium,” Dr. Fried said afterwards. “It may be so thin that it’s just not showing up on the screen, but we need to keep investigating.”

A thin endometrium, in menopause, is what the doctor wants to find. Thickening may be an indication of cancer.

Next came the  Sonohyseterogram. They shoot a saline solution into the uterine cavity to make the walls more visible. I had a couple of jump-off- the-table moments as the doctor moved the tube with the saline around. He and the technician kept an eye on the ultrasound screen. 

“There it is,” Dr. Fried said in minutes. “Most likely a fibroid.”

Damn, I thought. So much for the thin endometrium.

“The fibroid is probably the cause of the bleeding, but it’s obscuring part of the uterine wall,” he told me. “I need to biopsy that area because we can’t see it, and we need to make sure this is a fibroid, not a polyp.”

(Fibroids are rarely cancerous; some polyps morph into cancer.)

Next, came some frustrating months getting me on the right blood pressure medicine, so that I could have anesthesia for a D and C

(Lesson here: Don’t get behind on any aspect of your health. My blood pressure, which was elevated, shot up to crazy numbers at each doctor visit thanks to white coat syndrome.)

(Another lesson: I had only one more minor spotting incident from Feb. to June. I came close to cancelling the D and C. Glad I didn’t. Blood is blood, even if it stops.)

Chapel Hill OB/GYN offers an in-office D and C. Since having a D and C this way is cheaper, simpler, and for me, less scary, I opted for in-office over hospital.  (My doctor will not do an endometrial biopsy, BTW, without sedation. “We used to do them while women were awake,” he explained, “but we came to realize the procedure is just too painful.”)

D and C Day finally arrived. I’d never been sedated/put to sleep before.

I blinked and there I was looking at Cliff and the doctor in the recovery room (the same room, above, where we started).

“The fibroid is fine. It can live with you for the next forty years,” Dr. Fried said. “The uterine walls looked a little puffy though, and I found and removed a polyp.”

Not the news I wanted.

But not, as the doctor then suggested, necessarily bad news.

The procedure was on a Friday. I was to hear in three or four days.

Monday afternoon, a sort of panic set in.

At the same time, I imagined the relief of sending a mass email to friends and family headed “BENIGN.”

Tuesday afternoon, the panic grew. But when five-thirty came with no word from the doctor, I figured I wouldn’t learn anything until Wednesday. I relaxed, somewhat, for the evening.

Cliff is on a major campaign to rid the lawn of magnolia leaves. I stepped outside to assist with some raking.

At seven-thirty, I came back in to find a message on my phone.

I dialed voice mail.

“Barbara, this is Dr. Fried. I’ve got your biopsy results, and there is evidence of a very early cancer. I hate leaving you a message this way. I think you’re going to be fine, but we need to talk.”

Dr. Fried said to call him right back at home if I could and that he would be in the office tomorrow if I didn’t reach him that night.

I had cancer.

Cancer.

Cancer.

Cancer.

Dr. Fried is a jokester. He tells stories, turns a clever phrase, and gives his nurse instructions in French.

But in his message and in the much longer phone conversation we had next, his concern was getting me the information I needed.

Shocked, sad, but oddly calm, I was able to take in the compassion in his voice.

I’ve learned a lot from my cancer experience. One of the happiest, simplest lessons is that kindness and compassion always help.

No matter what.

Always.

Capture

PS. Some friends have winced when they hear that my doctor delivered my cancer news in a phone message.

No! I appreciated it so much. He’d promised to tell me by phone, none of that “Come into the office to get your results stuff.”  As he said when we connected minutes later, “I hated to tell you in a message, but I knew if I just said to call me, you’d figure out the news wasn’t good.”

Yep. This way, he was able to reassure me a bit before I even returned the call. Thanks, doc!

Photo Top: My crumpled gown after the D and C

Photo Bottom: My doc is sporting the plaid shirt. He’s also the only man in the picture.

52 responses »

    • Thanks so much! Yes, we need to get the word out!

      Now buy that dress! (although not sure how you can find it. I’m so annoyed I didn’t get the designer for you. Found it at Macy’s if that helps).

      On Wed, Aug 6, 2014 at 8:24 AM, Friend For The Ride wrote:

      >

  1. Great post! The most important message being to NEVER put off going to the doctor if you have spotting after menopause. That was the first sign that my Mom had ovarian cancer.

  2. So sorry you had to go through this. Thank you for sharing. I think I am perimenopausel or pre-m ? It’s crazy with getting a period, then several months with out, I am not sure what stage I am at as I heard 1 yr without means you are in Meno, now my Avon lady, same age as me, 47, told me she went 15 mths without one and it’s back full force ;-( confusing to say the least. Thanks again for sharing your story, Barbara.

    • I went a year and then got a period. But finally it stops.

      But that’s what’s so tricky about endometrial cancer. It often appears in the craziness of erratic periods during menopause. In my case, I went a long time with noperiod (several years) and so I knew the blood was not normal.

  3. Thank you for a wonderful post– “Wonderful” because it was so forthright and informative, because you shared so much of yourself AND let us know that there are doctors who are skilled and caring in communicating hard news to their patients. The nurse in me applauds both you and your doctor!
    Janet

  4. Barbara, I have been at patient at CH/OBGYN for 15 + years now and love Dr. Fried!!!! He is the such the best and tells good jokes too! You were/are in good care with that practice!
    Steph

  5. So glad you are on the mend, and so thankful you share!
    It is very confusing during this cycle in our lives to know what bleeding is what, but as you said it is really important to seek medical advice for answers.
    Keep well Barbara!

    • Thanks so much. I kept hoping each test would give me the all clear, but it didn’t work out that way. But I’m not complaining. So thrilled to be finished and to have been treated so well.

  6. Good luck to you and continued healing. I like the way your doctor left that message for you, because had he not said anything, you would have thought even worse!. And if you’re happy with it, then it’s even better!

  7. Great post Barbara,
    Glad to hear you’re on the mend. 🙂
    It’s very important that women know how vital it is to get post menopausal bleeding checked out. I’m post menopausal and I had a bleed. Didn’t muck about – went straight to the GP who referred me within two weeks. I got the all clear – it was ‘one of those things’ but it could so easily have been cancer.
    Thanks for sharing. X

  8. Barbara…that makes three of us that go to same gyn just from this post!! I have been seeing him for 35 years!!!! He is the best and you were in good hands. Thanks for sharing your story so honestly.

  9. I’m sure your post will help inform and reassure others. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself! Best wishes for a steady recovery.

  10. Barbara, that was so generous of you to share all of your “lessons learned.” If I had those symptoms, I probably would have done the same as you … just kind of trust that the blood spotting was a fluke. Because of your post, I now know not to ignore symptoms. I hope you’re healing and doing well.

    • June, as you know so well with your own writing, the post started out simply being the story of my diagnosis. But as I wrote, gratitude for Dr. Fried and his compassionate manner bubbled up!

  11. You’re absolutely right, Barbara, that compassion always helps. I cannot imagine the agony you must’ve gone through, just waiting for the results and the diagnosis. But it’s a blessing that you have a doctor who truly cares about you, and of course a loving support system. Sending you positive vibes through your healing journey, and thank you for sharing your story of COURAGE!

  12. Barbara, I congratulate you for sharing such personal information. I think it is ever so helpful for anyone that may have a similar situation. It is a good reminder to all of us to get to the doctors!

    • Thanks! It’s funny–I’ve gotten so used to talking/ thinking about my uterus over the last six months (may it rest in peace) that I’m just not shy about it. I worry a bit about TMI, but would rather get the info out. Lots more to come.

  13. I really appreciate (more than you know!) this post. I have been kind of waiting for it ever since I saw your last post. So scary! I will keep you in my thoughts/prayers, Barbara. I am 50 (not menopausal yet) and they did both an ultrasound and an MRI of the endometrial lining because I have been having WAY too heavy periods. Was told there was thickening (12 mm?) and they want to do an endometrial biopsy… but all my friends told me that was the most painful procedure in the world and now I am paralyzed with fear to go forward and have it. The line in your post about just that, gave me a double-take. Nobody here is offering to sedate me for that procedure but your doctor does? Can I fly to your doctor?! 😉 Anyhow I hope to gather courage from your post and just get to the bottom of this stuff. Bless you.
    Stephanie

  14. OK so I feel better about the “leaving you a phone message” part, but speaking to his nurse in French? He must be a hoot!! So glad about your prognosis Barbara, and you are lucky to have a compassionate doctor, and a wonderful family too!

  15. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I will keep this in my story file for my health coaching patients who are going through the same situation. You have such a good attitude and writing about your experience is so incredibly therapeutic!

  16. A wonderful experience with your doctor is ‘so’ good to hear. Many moons ago, I too had an artist of a doctor (a G.P. at that) who OFFERED to give me a pap ‘since I was already there’. He’s the one who found my ovarian cyst (not cancerous) but I did have to have it surgically removed. And like you, he was a smooth operator, the way he didn’t panic, but calmly pointed me onto the next appt. to look at it closer. Forever grateful for him, as I’m sure you are as well xx All the Best ❤

    • There’s nothing like a smart, calm, cool, but lovely doctor. I’ve heard some horror stories (and had a few bad experiences myself many years ago). Let’s hear it for doctor heroes and heroines!

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