My Cancer Story: Oncology

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Apoointment

When you get cancer, words you rarely use  pop to the top of your vocab list.

“Oncology” is one of them.

My gynecologist said it first, but the word really hit home when I read it on the appointment letter from UNC Hospital:

UNC  OBGYN  GYN ONCOLOGY

I began to talk about MY oncologist.

Dr. Gehrig is the  head of the department, an expert in endometrial cancer and laproscopic and robotic surgery.

Hospital Signs

That Monday morning,  Cliff and I made our way down  a hallway with a huge sign shouting the word again:

Gynecological Oncology

First came registration and then weight, blood pressure, and a few other checks.

Next they ushered us into a small exam room. My eyes immediately caught this poster:

ednometrial-study

Prior to this, I most often used “survivor” in reference to the TV show. Add “survivor” to the updated vocab list.

UNC is a teaching hospital. I met with the Fellow, Dario Roque, who turns out, went to Davidson College. He partied with my kids! (and more importantly, studied hard with my kids).

Dr. Rogue brought out a chart of the female reproductive organs.

“From your pathology, we know you have an early stage, non-aggressive cancer on part of your uterine wall” (“pathology” being another vocab word I would use over and over in the coming weeks), “but we don’t know what types or stages of cancer we’ll find in the remainder of the uterus.”

Whoa.

I learned the difference between the type of cancer and the stage. “Stage” is how far the disease has spread.

“If the cancer has penetrated more than fifty percent of the uterine wall,” Dr. Roque explained, “you’ll need radiation.”

I asked about the dreaded chemo.

“With endometrial cancer, we only do chemo if the cancer has gone into your lymph nodes.”

He explained the surgery. Five incisions in the abdomen, one for a camera. “We pull the uterus out the vagina unless your uterus is too large. Then we have to make a bigger incision in your abdomen. We’ll remove nodes. We’ll test all of it while you’re still under anesthesia.”

Happily, my uterus proved, during the exam that followed, not to be large. Who knew?

Table

After the exam, Dr. Gehrig came in and went over my diagnosis and the procedure.

“Bring a list of questions,” Cliff had told me over and over.

I was so nervous, I never brought out my list.

But I asked plenty of questions and got lots of answers. Cliff took notes.

Last, I met the researchers.

I agreed to participate in several studies, including the study from the poster above. For the first time, I realized I might help cancer patients who come after me.

Spankys

Cliff and I had an hour and a half before I was due in what UNC calls “Precare:” chest x-ray, blood tests, a talk with the nurse about hospital prep, and an EKG. We hotfooted it up to Franklin Street to restaurant row, right off the UNC campus.

We courted in Chapel Hill in the 70s. I was in grad school there, and Cliff was finishing his engineering degree at Duke. Back then my uterus was just a young thing, and its only problem was cramps.

We stepped into Spanky’s, on the corner of Franklin and Columbia Street.

I opened my menu.

My mind spun from the morning events. I liked the doctors and staff. I was scared, sure, but encouraged by what I learned about the surgery and expectations for recovery.

Cliff and I have been eating out together for years, lots of years. Festive outings filled with lively conversation and good food.

“Festive” is not a word I ever thought would go on my cancer vocab list.

Festive

But “festive” describes that lunch.

Festive since I love portabello mushroom melts and Spanky’s.

Festive thanks to the good vibes we got from UNC Hospital.

Festive because I sat across from a husband who knows how to make the best of a ninety minute break from medical vocabulary.

“Festive” comes from the word “festival,” which means “a time of celebration.”

“Celebrate” isn’t a word I thought I’d add to the cancer vocab list either.

But in the weeks to come, I learned I had plenty to celebrate, in ways that surprised me.

Stick with me! The story continues. Thanks for reading and for all your love and good wishes.

36 responses »

  1. I think it’s wonderful that you are sharing your experience so honestly!! And what a relief to know
    all is well now!!!

    • Thanks so much. It’s been a neat experience to write it thus far, which has been a happy surprise. We’ll see what happens when it’s time to describe those first few days home. The pain wasn’t that bad, I just had moments when I felt so sick…

  2. Barbara….you always put such an interesting spin on life and your writings….and now your spin and humor on something personal that must have been beyond scary. You amaze me and now…let the FESTIVITIES continue! Thanks for your honesty, and your fun and twirly spins on life!

  3. Your posts will help many, many now and in the future. Some of the fear of cancer is the fear of the unknown. Wonderful to hear the details of your cancer “adventure”.

    • I’m participating in four of them. Two are surveys. A darling young man called and asked me a LOT of questions. He said I didn’t have to answer any that made me nervous, but I answered them all, even the TMI ones. One is leg measurements when I come back for check ups every three months–that’s to look for/study lymphedema. The last was permission to shoot dye into me during the surgery. They are able to identify cancerous nodes during surgery with breast cancer but haven’t perfected the technique with pelvic cancers (not sure I stated that correctly). I’m glad to participate. It actually helps me lend more meaning to the whole experience. I also gave permission for my removed organs to be used in research.

  4. You’re amazing the way you can describe the details of your experience. Very helpful for any of us who may face this.

  5. I am hanging on like glue to your installments. Never would I expect those last few words to enter this kind of story either! I think you are demystifying so many things for us. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and this strikes me as something you could condense and submit to mainstream, like LHJ or Woman’s Day. It’s so important and so significant that you can mine the positive out of what women normally recycle as another horrific experience with cancer–a word that makes us all tremble.
    Stephanie

  6. Barbara, Thank you for telling us this story, an adventure and very natural. I hope for your quick recovery, and look forward to reading your blog, as always, Jennifer

  7. Celebrate – Festive
    It feels good to read these words from you, Barbara. I have been thinking of you a lot and wishing you only good news and a speedy recovery. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your experiences with us here. I know if even one woman questions a strange symptom she is having, and your story helps get her to the doctor, it will be well worth the time (and emotional investment) it took for you to tell your story. Thank you! HUGS!

    • You know what’s funny is when I’d read the websites (and every site says it): ALL BLEEDING AFTER MENOPAUSE IS ABNORMAL, I resented it. Silly I know because it was the truth. But the words scared and irritated me so. Those words probably saved my life! (And of course not all bleeding is a sign of cancer. They say only one in eight, but the point is all bleeding should be investigated.)

  8. Beautiful. Reading your posts helps me take notice of all the little things as my two girls are growing up too fast! There is so much to celebrate every day.

    • Yes, enjoy those girls and those days. Within an hour of my diagnosis, I thought that part of the lesson in this for me was I needed to grump less. I hope I can keep that thought in my heart and truly celebrate each day.

      • Indeed we need to truly celebrate each day, AND It’s really okay to “grump” — REALLY! As women, I think that we often just don’t get this. We somehow think that “disasters befall us,” we get our “just desserts,” simply because we have dared to express some real dissatisfaction in our lives and dare I say it, dissatisfaction with our spouses, and/or with our family members – whew! — Okay, I SAID it). And, of course, it helps to have empathetic and resilient family members when we embark on this “awakening” to help keep our marriage bonds and family intact (like I was blessed to have). But, to truly appreciate the celebration of each day, we must first get rid of any “emotional baggage” that keeps us from celebrating — then it’s really joie de vivre!

  9. Good for you to do trials. In the 12years since my breast cancer diagnosis I have participated in 5clinical trials. It’s good to be a survivor when the word is said after cancer.

    • I told myself I’d agree to anything that didn’t involve lots of trips back to the hospital. I’m doing one where they will measure my legs for two years (looking for lymph node damage) but the researcher said they’ll do it when I come back for checkups. Five clinical trials is a lot! A good feeling to help, that’s for sure!

  10. Your experience will help so very many Barbara — because of your ability to capture the essence of what you have experienced within your writings in this most trying life episode, and because of your very keen connection with others. Thank you for being so brave to tell others about what you have experienced!

    Also, I hope you will look beyond “cancer,” as to how to break through and become exactly who you are, who you will continue to be, and if it is something that you want — who you may become. Best wishes for all of the happy episodes to come!

  11. I’m learning so much about you as I read these posts. I had missed your sense of humor, somehow. The wonderful thing about this is discovering more of you to love – the more I know, the more I want to hang out and be silly with you. ❤

    plus, I like medical words and stuff and will ALWAYS want to talk about it, the TMI, the whole thing. so if you need some share time, you know where to find me. 😀

  12. Since May 2012 when my cousin called to tell me my beloved uncle had pancreatic cancer, things got bad (if that’s possible since he passed away months later.) My dad had/has lymphoma, mom has papillary and now my son (I hate typing these words) has testicular. I HATE CANCER.

    My prayers for you and what I pray for every day is this: Do Not Let The Cancer Win.

    You go, Barbara, with my prayers and virtual hugs and I know all will be ok. I am always here to talk to you if you need to. Always.

  13. Barbara, thank you for sharing your scary, compelling, brave and surprising journey with us. You are in my prayers! xo

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