June 29th, 2017
| Survivor: Uterine or Endometrial Cancer
My mother and father were both half Native American—Cherokee, to be exact. And I was born in the month of August, so that makes me a Leo. I also wasn't born on time— three weeks early, exactly. My family wasn't ready for me, but I showed up anyway! So in a sense, I've been stubborn since day one. That stubbornness was almost my undoing, at least medically.
I was in a car accident back in 2004. I had no injuries—external or internal—except for back spasms. The doctor couldn't understand it. He said I was okay, but not to ever expect to have kids. I thought nothing of it—until the next month, when I didn't have my monthly cycle. And didn't have another one for the next five years. I had my cycles like clockwork since I was 10, so I knew this wasn't natural. But the stubborn Indian in me refused to be checked, even though I knew deep down something was wrong.
So I kept trucking on, so to speak. I finally got my cycle about five years after my accident. I was so excited to have one that I didn't notice it was super heavy, though it had never been like that before. After that, they came sporadically for the next two years, then not at all for a year. It was in 2012 that I got another cycle—turned out to be my last one—that wouldn't end. I passed huge clots, some about the size of a small toddler's fist. I ended up in the ER, blacking out from blood loss. It was a wonder I didn't need a blood transfusion.
The ER doctor told me to get to a gynecologist immediately, preferably within the week. I did that, and I'm glad I did. My gynecologist was amazing—she did a pap smear and uterine biopsy. August 24, 2012, 1:57 pm, a Friday, is a date and time that I'll never forget. I was getting ready for work and my gynecologist called. I'll remember these words forever: “Well, we got the results of your Pap smear back, and it was normal. But the biopsy shows that you do have uterine cancer.”
Uterine cancer? What? I couldn't believe it. Nobody in my family ever got cancer like that. I tried my best to take care of myself; never smoked, never drank, nothing like that; I got sick anyway. I couldn't bring myself to believe that I was that sick.
I was sent to the University of Oklahoma's Stephenson Cancer Center, and I couldn't have asked for a better oncology team. Dr. Moxley was amazing. She took the time to explain what was going on with me, and answered all of my questions. Due to my age at the time (I had just turned 32 the month before), she wanted to do surveillance—chemotherapy and radiation, and maybe a hysterectomy down the road. I chose the more aggressive approach. I told her to go ahead and take it all out—uterus, tubes, ovaries, cervix, everything.
I had my surgery on September 19, 2012. Dr. Moxley told me two weeks later that she got it all and I didn't need any further treatment. I'll never forget the stage: Stage 1A, Grade 2 … music to my ears! Am I upset at myself for not bothering to get checked out sooner? Of course. I could've prevented my cancer. I could have had a better life. But I can't dwell on the “what ifs.”
Hindsight is 20/20, though. I could have done this, I could've done that. But I'm grateful for the life lessons cancer taught me. It taught me to appreciate life, and to take care of it. I later learned that a majority of uterine cancer cases occur in women over 45. And I also learned that uterine cancer is the most commonly diagnosed gynecologic (women's) cancer in the United States, far more than cervical cancer and ovarian cancer combined, but not enough is done to raise awareness.
I didn't fit the prototypical uterine cancer patient: I was young, and in relatively good health otherwise (I could stand to lose a few pounds, but then again, most of us do!). But I learned cancer doesn't discriminate. Now that I know better, I do what I can to let others know that if something seems “off,” go get it looked at! Not knowing almost cost me my life.
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Photo courtesy of the author.
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