April 05, 2022

Dodging a Big Bullet

Sometimes it truly is a matter of timing and sometimes the stars align so perfectly. 

As a woman in her 50s I naturally started tracking my cycles in order to keep track of when they have stopped for a year, which basically means you’re then in menopause.  Sure enough, they started becoming irregular, often disappearing for months before coming back.  Imagine my surprise then, when it didn’t stop.  I mean it didn’t stop at all.  For weeks.  Then months. 

I reached out to my family doctor.  This alone was a bit challenging as my doctor typically spends a lot of time doing stuff other than actually seeing patients (like teaching, etc.).  Fortunately, I was able to see an associate at the same clinic, who immediately asked me to set up an appointment for an ultrasound.  Being in a small-town type of area it took a few weeks to get that appointment, after which I had to wait a few more to see the associate again to discuss the results.  She told me that based on the ultrasound she wanted me to have a biopsy.  Biopsy?  This didn’t sound good, but I tried to tell myself it could be a number of things.  So, a few weeks later I had the biopsy and then waited on tenterhooks for a month to get the results of that. 

Talk about a sucker punch!  She came into the exam room and told me I had Cancer.  Endometrial cancer.  This is cancer in the lining of the uterus.  After I took a few moments to basically have a nervous breakdown, I asked what it meant and what options there were.  She told me it appeared that we had caught it early and was only at Stage 1.  She was going to hook me up with a gynecologist and explained that I would likely need a hysterectomy.  A few weeks after that I met the gynecologist.  She was very reassuring, telling me that with a full hysterectomy (which includes ovaries), I should be good to go.  My sister was more devastated than I was over that news until I reminded her that I already had a son and that I was unlikely to have any more children at my age anyway, so didn't need any of that plumbing.

Knowing that my workplace would be shutting down for two weeks over Christmas, I asked if there was any way she could do the surgery just before the shut-down in order to minimize the amount of time I would need to take off work.  I figured with the two-week closure plus the 12 days of sick time I would largely be okay to start working from home part days until I was deemed okay to return to work.  She wasn’t sure she could get me in that fast, but said she would see.  I went to work and told my supervisor and HR about my diagnosis and that I hoped to have surgery ASAP. 

I guess I traded in some saved up karma because a few days later she called to say a clinical partner had a cancellation for the following week and she asked for the surgery time in order to slide me in.  Yay!  In short order she had her office set up a pre-op day for me.  Now that was an ordeal!  I’ll spare you the details, but let’s say it started with a drill-your-brain-through-the-nose covid test and carried on from there.  I also met with the head of anesthetics who told me there were two ways the surgery could end up happening: (1) the old way of slicing through the abdomen; or (2) vaginally.  The second option was my hoped-for but they couldn’t know for sure until they had me on the table.  This option was preferred because the recovery is so much easier than option 1.  He offered to set me up with a morphine-type self-administer pump to manage the pain after the surgery, but I insisted I would be okay with Tylenol Extra Strength.  I explained to him that I’d had other surgeries (plate in foot, caesarian delivery) and knew I would be okay with just that. 

I was pleasantly surprised that we did end up with option 2.  I did have five tiny incisions all over my abdomen where scopes were inserted to light and display the surgery space for the doctor.  As promised, I only needed the Tylenols.  The evening of the day of the surgery when the nurse asked me about my pain level I told her honestly, that it was about a 4 out of 10.  I was definitely not in a lot of pain.  For being only out of the surgery for about 6 hours that was pretty impressive to them.  The nurses gave me lots of water, popsicles, and even some food.  I slept lots.  I was even able to walk to the bathroom unaided and use the facilities.  They were pretty happy.  The next day the surgeon came in mid-morning and checked my chart, took a quick look at me, and asked if I wanted to go home that afternoon.  Considering they initially wanted me to stay 2 days, I was thrilled.  I called my husband to come get me.  I left with a list of after-care procedures.  The only thing that happened that I wasn't prepared for was being drop kicked into full-on menopause.  Hard.  Suddenly with no ovaries, no more natural female hormones.  

Now you’re probably wondering how my mention of good timing fits into all this.  Here it is:  In mid-January I got a letter from my family doctor saying that she was closing her practice at the end of February.  I was about to be orphaned.  If she had made that decision even six months before, I would probably have just continued to lightly bleed because it was annoying, but I was not experiencing any pain so wouldn’t have thought to bother going to the emergency room to seek medical advice.  Knowing how long it can take to find a doctor in this area, I could well have just put it off until it was too late.  As mentioned, I have high pain tolerance so I might not have been diagnosed until the cancer was stage 3 or 4.  Instead, the stars aligned, I got seen right away and had surgery right away.  A month after the surgery I saw the surgeon for the follow up and was told I was cancer-free!  What an amazing feeling.  So I really and truly did dodge a bullet, simply because the stars aligned.

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