Menopause

My Cancer Story: Yes! Five Years

The day had come. My five year check up.

If all went well, my oncologist would dismiss me from her care. I’d visit the gynecologist once a year, but my treks to Gynecologic Oncology would be finished as long as I remained symptom-free.

I like to revisit North Carolina Women’s Hospital. During the two days I spent there, I celebrated some of the best news of my life: My cancer was early stage. My prognosis was quite good.

Revisiting the hospital reminds me of that good news and of the fine care I received. (You can read my entire cancer story here).

But I was still crossing my grateful fingers that today my doctor would dismiss me from her care. The huge parking garage makes me nervous, and the hospital bill for a ten minute check up would buy a lot of dinners out. A whole lot.

Most of  all, I wanted to NOT have to go back anymore because that would mean I am a five-year cancer survivor.  I wanted to be this person:

After a bit of a wait, the nurse called me into the exam room. “Dr. Gerhig will be in shortly,” she said after asking me a ton of questions. Then she left, closing the door behind her.

I whipped out my phone and snapped a selfie for Friend for the Ride and for myself.  I worked fast. I didn’t want the doctor to catch me taking a selfie in her exam room and think I am majorly weird.

About ten minutes later, there was a knock. “Come in.”

“This is it!” Dr. Paola Gerhig announced as she stepped into the room. “Five years!”

We talked about what I was to do if I had any symptoms. She instructed me to visit my gynecologist, who would determine if I needed to see Dr. Gerhig next. Menopausal women can bleed for many reasons, but I am to rush to the doctor with even a spot of blood. We also discussed genetic testing, which I’ve decided to do (more about that later).

The actual exam takes about five minutes. I always hold my emotional breath.

“Looks good,” Dr. Gerhig said.

When I got off the table, she hugged me. “This is huge. Five years cancer-free is  very significant.”

Then I said to her what I’ve said for five years: “Thank you for saving my life.”

“You’re welcome.”

She left, and my eyes welled up with tears.

My good news plan was to celebrate with the same beautiful and delicious cookie I celebrated with in this post:

But alas, the hospital Starbucks didn’t have any sunflowers, so I selected a cookie pop. It’s got a bit of an anatomical look to it, which is either slightly funny or kind of gross.

I’m not sure I even tasted that cookie pop. I was too wound up.

When I  got to the parking garage, I gave the hospital a long glance. My guess is I’ll be back, for one reason or another, but hopefully, my days as an endometrial cancer patient are over.

My happy mind spun. Was I going to jinx myself by sharing my news? By being so happy?

But I couldn’t hold back. I posted on Facebook and enjoyed the kind words of so many. Since the beginning, I’ve been open about my illness. Endometrial  cancer is the most common gynecological cancer and the most curable if caught early.  My goal is to spread the word.

Cliff bought me festive handmade presents in celebration the next week at the Farmer’s Market in Charlottesville.

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I’m especially fond of my new checkbook cover. I’ve had the same green plastic one for 35 years.

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Of course my CHECK UP was present enough. It’s one of the best presents of my life because on that good day I got to spread my arms wide and say:

P.S: I was pleased to receive my first shout out in the Washington Post. My friend Steve Petrow interviewed me for his article on celebrating cancer anniversaries. You can read the article here. 

 

Menopause

My Cancer Story: Early Detection Is the Ticket!

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In the spring of 2014, I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Healthy all my life, the diagnosis shocked me as I imagine cancer shocks everyone.

Luckily, my cancer was early stage. Shortly after the diagnosis, I thought: At least this is good material for Friend for the Ride. I vowed then to become an advocate for early detection of endometrial cancer. You can read about my cancer journey here.

I alternate between seeing my oncologist every six months and my gynecologist every six months. I still get nervous before the exam. Each time thus far, when I get the news that all is well, I leave the appointment with a bounce to my steps.

I met with a new gynecologist this time. She looked at my chart and smiled. “We tell our early stage endometrial cancer patients they can expect to meet their great-grandchildren.” Sounds good to me!

But the key word is “early stage.”

  • Bleeding between periods should be checked out.
  • Any post-menopausal bleeding (even spotting or watery pink discharge) should be investigated.
  • Pain during sex (that feels different than pain related to dryness) should be discussed with your doctor.

Odds are you have no worries, but do consider further testing with the advisement of your doctor.

Early detection is the magic ticket, and I’m glad to be alive to tell you so! Please share this post and help me get the word out. Thanks!

 

Menopause

My Cancer Story: Oncology Check

As an endometrial cancer survivor, I visit the oncologist once a year and six months later, the gynecologist. Although I wouldn’t dare skip one of these appointments, I do feel some apprehension before and during each check up.

I’m happy to step into UNC Hospital again though. The doctors and staff saved my life, and I’m grateful beyond measure. The hospital is nicely designed and decorated, and the food is good. My memories are joyful ones, especially the moment when I got the first pathology report.

Before my latest appointment a few weeks ago, I studied the brush strokes on this painting in the waiting room. Now that I’m taking an art class, I keep my eyes open for art education opportunities.

On to the check up.

The news was excellent: No sign of recurrence. I asked my doctor a round of questions because I like to get my money’s worth. (A visit to UNC Hospital is not cheap.) Then Cliff and I went for a celebratory lunch.

Since my news is happy news, let’s move to a more carefree topic. When you go to the doctor, and the nurse tells you to undress, do you climb on the table once you have on the drape or robe? Or do you wait in the chair?

In my younger days, I felt duty bound to climb on the table.  But that old table can be hard on the back while you wait. And wait. And wait.

So now I don’t get on the table until the doctor comes into the room.  I snapped this selfie to show you. (I’m glad the doc didn’t catch me taking it. None of my doctors has expressed any interest in my menopause blog. Why not? Who knows? A question for another day…)

Back to the question at hand. Table or chair?

Do tell!

To read more about endometrial cancer and my experience, check out the link at the top of the page or click here.  Endometrial cancer has a high cure rate, if caught early, and is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system. 

Menopause

My Cancer Story: Two Years

Barbara Before Surgery

It’s been two years this summer since my surgery for endometrial cancer. I look happy in this pre-surgery picture, and in many ways, I was. What I call “Cancer Courage” had set in. And I felt quite loved by Cliff  and my friends and my church that day and well taken care of by the medical world

After the surgery, I was happier still. The pathology news was great–early stage cancer and no further treatments.

But as happy as I was then and am now, cancer changes you. You cross a line. The line for me is that I now live in fear of recurrence. The stats say this cancer should not return, but I’m on daily alert for blood, the sign it’s back. The blood worry has gotten better, which my oncologist said it would, but it lives with me always.

If you know a cancer survivor, treat your friend to a movie or an ice cream cone or a glass of wine.I can promise you that unless he or she is an off-the-charts optimist, your friend worries too. I now understand what a cancer check means. I go every six months and hold my breath until the doctor says, “Looks good.” Then I treat myself to an ice cream cone.

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I’m now an advocate for endometrial cancer awareness, and I share resources I find. A few weeks ago I came across this excellent brochure produced by the Foundation for Women’s Cancer. 

I’ve dedicated a page on Friend for the Ride to endometrial cancer. You can visit it here. Please share this page on your social media sites. Let’s spread the word! Thanks!

Menopause

My Cancer Story: Twenty Months

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As I wrote here, sometimes joy abounds in shocking ways. I never would have guessed that my two days spent in this place, UNC Hospital, would be two of the happiest of my life. On my way back for a checkup at twenty months, this thought hit me anew. And why so happy? A successful surgery, little pain, AND a best case pathology report. My cancer was early stage, and I needed no further treatments.

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That’s my reflection in the glass. I had about twenty minutes before my appointment, so I took a nostalgic stroll around the hospital. I walked past the desk where Cliff and I checked in at six AM on surgery morning. I recall feeling subdued but calm. In an article I wrote for Sixty and Me, I called it “Cancer Courage.” Shout out to reader Cheryl who is rocking Cancer Courage right now, as she prepares for her sixth chemo infusion for breast cancer.

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The Ladies Room Door Art Series had just begun. I was pleased at my pre-op visit to find this door with UNC’s symbol of the Old Well. Snapped it again!

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And what a happy ride I took in one of these slick carts when it was time to go home post-surgery.

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I’m a Duke grad, but I got my master’s in library science at UNC. In fact, I had my first gyno exam at the health facility there shortly before my wedding. Never would have guessed I’d return almost forty years later for exams of a more serious nature.

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Even though I’m twenty months post-surgery, it still takes me back to see this sign. Oncology. Think Cancer.

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The photos below no doubt call up a yuck reaction. Most women hate pelvic exams. I’ve become a pro, but more importantly, I don’t hate them anymore. Thus far, post-surgery, they’ve brought me good news. It sure puts a bounce in my step when the doctor announces that all looks well. (A bounce in my step, that is, after I get off the table).

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My oncologist, Paola Gerhig, confirmed that I am to see her once a year and my gynecologist six months later, for five years. At that point, if I’ve had no recurrence, Dr. Gerhig will release me to the care of my gynecologist.

But not before I say what I say each time I see her: “Thank you for saving my life.”

Endometrial Cancer:  Please don’t hesitate to contact me, as some of you have, with personal concerns. You can read my cancer story on Friend for the Ride’s Endometrial Cancer page.

 

Menopause

Tampons for Screening Endometrial Cancer

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Endometrial cancer, which I had surgery for in July, 2014, is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs. The cure rate is very high if caught early, but there’s no early detection test.

Good news! That test is on the way. And it involves our old friends: tampons.

The Mayo Clinic reports: “Researchers at Mayo Clinic have shown that it is possible to detect endometrial cancer using tumor DNA picked up by ordinary tampons. The new approach specifically examines DNA samples from vaginal secretions for the presence of chemical “off” switches — known as methylation — that can disable genes that normally keep cancer in check.”

Read the rest of the article here.

And watch this short presentation by one of the researchers.

I don’t have any more details on the test such as the false positive or false negative rates or the cost, but let’s hope the research is right and the test proves a good one. Talk about being rescued by a tampon!

Menopause

My Cancer Story: One Year Checkup!

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At my post-op visit following surgery for endometrial cancer in July, 2014, my oncologist explained that for the next few years, I would visit her at UNC Hospital and then six months later, my gynecologist. So at the one year mark, it was the gynecologist’s turn. Love Dr. Freid! I wrote here about his kindness when he called with my diagnosis last June.

Although it can manifest itself other ways, endometrial cancer tends to return as vaginal cancer. Yikes! Talk about a creepy thought…

As I sat in the waiting room of Chapel Hill OBGYN, my cancer visits and tests flashed into my mind, but I mostly thought happy thoughts. Surgery behind me and with a good prognosis, it’s fun to watch the pregnant women come and go. Been there, done that.

Dr. Freid’s nurse asked me a bundle of questions. Then she instructed me to put on the gown and walked out the door. The gown felt crisper than most and its styling a bit more chic. Fast photo op! In the shot above, note Dr. Freid’s framed ice hockey articles. In the photo below, see  the girl parts chart. An interesting contrast for a gynecologist’s examining room.

In came Dr. Freid with his nurse and a medical student in tow. Dr. Fried’s joke-telling took longer than the exam. “Looks good,” he said.

Five minutes later, back in my street clothes and seated in his office, we talked  about the roller coaster I’ve experienced since the surgery.

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“I hit you over the head when I called with the diagnosis,” Dr. Freid said. “I told you that you probably didn’t have cancer, and you did.”(An ultrasound had revealed fibroids, which he suspected were the cause of the spotting. The D and C was just a precaution). He leaned forward in his black leather chair. “I’d be shocked if you didn’t have some emotional moments.”

When I left, I thanked him, again, for saving my life, twice. (Dr. Freid nailed me on my blood pressure during my first visit, and that’s now under control.)

Then I did what I always do. I went to the mall across the street. I grabbed samples from Southern Season, a gourmet food store, and debated if I should get Chick-Fil-A for lunch or something a bit more nutritious.

As I made the decision, I walked with spring in my step. Happy One Year Cancer Anniversary to me!

P.S. If you’re scheduled for a hysterectomy, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d be glad to share my experience, which went well. My email is on the right.