Carol, in her mid-70s, has stage 4 uterine cancer. While her family has provided tremendous support and comfort, she wishes she could return to her previous energy level in order to make the most of the time that she has left.
I had some spotting but ignored it. It stopped, but then a few months later I had more bleeding and some pain. My gynecologist tried to do a biopsy in the office but couldn’t; that’s when they realized there was a problem. When I was told that I needed surgery, I was concerned about who was going to take care of the house, the dogs, my flock of geese: I was preparing more to be absent than thinking about myself, concerned that everything here was going to be okay. I don’t remember having time to think about it; everything happened so fast that I didn’t dwell on it. I just thought I’d get the hysterectomy and it will be fine.
The surgery was in April 2015. It was not a simple surgery. I had to go back in because of an infection and was in the hospital for a few days. I was told that there was fluid in the uterus, so I needed radiation and chemo to make sure there were no metastases. After the surgery, I had my whole family with me in the doctor’s office. We have seven grown children, and the doctor explained everything to them, but I was sort of numb. My family was great. Someone went to every appointment with me since Day 1. Now I know why I had so many kids! My husband was also very supportive, but he’s 88 and has his own health issues.
Helpful to Share
For about a month, I didn’t share anything about it with anyone except my husband and kids, after that I was very open. Anyone who asked, I would tell them everything. It was helpful for me to be able to share. I didn’t really have any emotions about cancer; never asked why me, but also never drank or smoked. And I had only ever had one partner, so it was curious, but I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself.
I had been basically healthy my whole life, but a year before this happened, I woke up and my leg was swollen and red. I went to the ER and they said I had cellulitis, gave me antibiotics, and sent me home. Two weeks later, the same thing happened again, but in both legs. Then I got C. diff, the antibiotics had killed everything in my stomach, and I got shingles on my head and face. It was one thing right after another. Then, almost four months later I’m diagnosed with cancer. One of the nurses said shingles is often a precursor to cancer.
My first chemo started off normally, and I sat there talking to my daughter, but then all of a sudden, my throat closed over, my face turned red, and next thing I know they are standing over me with paddles. They had to switch me to a different chemo drug. By the last round I was on less powerful chemo and not supposed to lose my hair, but I did anyway. I experienced a little chemo fog and have trouble remembering names, but I didn’t get angry or sad about it, I faced it. My whole life, I never showed my emotions—that’s me, if I had them, I didn’t show them—so this cancer didn’t knock me down mentally. I thought, it is what it is and I’m going to beat it.
Into the Woods
Family and faith have been my support and have allowed me to get through this. Also, going to the woods—I drive a little tractor into the woods and know every rock and tree there. That’s where I get my peace and strength. When things got out of hand I never cried, but I’d still go to the woods when I had the strength.
I have some tumors that they are watching, one on my lung and another on a major vein within the omentum where it would be delicate to operate because of the risk of bleeding. I go from one CT scan to the next. If I get a clean scan, I take on the next project. I can go five weeks at a time; that’s the way I’ve been living my life for the last three years. This is my good time now, but I still get so darn tired. At one point, my doctor said, “I don’t want to see you for three months,” so I asked if I was in remission and he said, “What part of stage 4 don’t you understand?” His comment just stuck like a knife. I haven’t asked many questions after that, so I don’t know what’s happening at this point.
I think about my mortality now. I have a nine-room house full of stuff and need to start downsizing, but no one wants to take their stuff, so I’m dealing with that. I can’t leave this world with all this stuff here. Plus, I have a whole sewing operation—sewing machines and fabrics—that I have to do something about. Maybe I won’t get another ten years, but I hope that I do because I need every day of it.
The Sooner the Better
I think about the many things I won’t be able to do again. Before any of this happened, I had more energy and used to garden and do everything. Now, I’m exhausted; I know my energy isn’t likely to ever come back, and that’s more important to me than the cancer. I just want my energy back. It makes me angry that I can’t do things—just carrying a kitchen chair into the bedroom exhausted me. I used to be so strong and healthy, going up and down stairs, walking, but now it’s all so tiring.
I don’t think you can tell anyone how to deal with cancer, everyone is different and will deal with it the way that’s best for them, but I was not very smart about things and if I could offer any advice it would be to tell people to get bleeding checked right away. When I first had bleeding, I wish I’d known that I should have done something about it, and not joked about getting a new lease on life. That’s the one thing I regret, because then maybe it wouldn’t have been stage 4.