When Cancer Came Knocking
Cancer was never something I had envisioned as being part of my story. To be honest, I didn’t have much exposure to cancer until I was 37 years old and it came knocking on my door.
In 2012 I was diagnosed with stage 3B locally advanced gynecological cancer. Though I had been voicing concerns to doctors and had an inkling something was wrong, it still came as an absolute shock. I remember feeling two very real and distinct emotions: disbelief and anger. Disbelief, that what I thought might be happening inside of me actually was, and anger, that I hadn’t pursued my concerns and pushed for answers sooner.
My husband and I remember our first time meeting with the oncologists like it was our wedding day. “I just don’t know if we can cure this,” one of the oncologists told us. It was a surreal feeling and I left that meeting wondering how we got this far. Why wasn’t it caught earlier? For me, this experience was a stiff life lesson in the importance of personal advocacy.
The days following my diagnosis were a whirlwind. In the vortex were communicating my diagnosis to friends, family, and work, visits with the lawyer, connecting with hospice, setting up visits with a family social worker, reading up on how to tell the kids, and on top of that, trying to prepare myself for the road ahead by reading up on what to expect during chemotherapy and radiation – something I knew absolutely nothing about.
Within two weeks of being diagnosed, all my tests were completed, my case was reviewed by the Tumour Board Committee and a revised treatment plan was put together. I then waited for a bed to open up so I could start my chemotherapy treatments - a ‘cocktail’ of three agents, my chemotherapist called it. At that point we were still not 100% sure what we were dealing with. The doctors knew partly where the tumour was, but not where it originated from. Different biopsies revealed different things... Was it cervical? Uterine? Endometrial? We later found out that it was not only in the uterus and cervix, but it was also in the ovaries. I had two primary cancers developing at the same time – ovarian and endometrial.
At that time, my four children were all under the age of nine. When small kids are involved it can be particularly challenging. Life before cancer was busy enough. When cancer was introduced into the picture, it added strain and pressure on my family. From scheduling appointments and hospital stays, to making arrangements for the kids and trying to manage the emotional and physical highs and lows, we were overwhelmed. My husband became the primary caregiver for all four kids, a job we shared previously, as well as the primary caregiver for me.
The kids struggled to deal with my diagnosis. I remember filling my pill case one day and one of my three year old twins asked if I would help him with his pill case when he has cancer. As a mom, those are the kind of things that make your heart sink to the pit of your stomach.
My story is filled with some of those life lessons that we all know but don’t really live by, a number of “Thank God” moments, and personal reflections.
I learned two very important lessons throughout my journey: to advocate for myself, and recognize and enjoy the little things that matter.
My advice to others would be to let people help you when they offer. Give them specific tasks like picking the kids up from soccer every Tuesday, or coming over to put the kids to bed on a night when you’re home alone. Get control wherever it feels right for you. You have the right to ask lots of questions, push for answers, research, even asking for your chemo orders so you can follow along and have confidence in your care. It’s important to let people know how you’re feeling, whether it’s depressed or hopeful - whatever it may be that day. Some days, I felt like I couldn’t push on. Other days, I would get up rejoicing and go for a short run. Finding support for your spouse is also important. Their stress levels are through the roof too, but there is often little support to help them cope.
After several hospital stays, two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, cancer has left its battle wounds. It’s a war I hope we have won. I will assume bragging rights in three years when I get to declare that I put up a good fight and am cured.