In January 2003, after having an irregular menstrual cycle for years, it seemed abnormal when a few months prior I had been experiencing a heavier than normal cycle. Somehow that episode seemed weird, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should have it checked out. The only problem was my gynecologist was MIA. Nevertheless, my sister came through and highly recommended her gynecologist; with some apprehension, I saw her.
That first visit to the new gynecologist was friendly. She was kind as we spoke of my female history and all that had been done in the past. We did a full exam and biopsy in her office, and she sent the sample to the lab for testing. I was also given a prescription for birth control pills but advised not to fill it until I heard from her. Fast forward a few days later when I received a call from the doctor asking me to come into her office. I thought the phone call would be just to instruct me to fill the birth control pills. I was not prepared to see her again so soon.
When I got to her office the same day of the phone call, she started by saying she didn’t know how to tell me this. I pretty much told her, well, just say it. Then she said the “C” word. I saw her lips moving but didn’t hear anything. She repeated it—said the labs came back showing I had endometrial (uterine) cancer. I was in shock. She wanted to know if she should call a family member to come get me, but I told her no. She went on to tell me the next steps: confirm the diagnosis and options for treatment.
I went back to work and finished the day, but I was in a fog. I didn’t call anyone because I was still trying to process and formulate the words. I was so slow to process but I couldn’t be slow to act. The next few weeks would be a flurry of activity—a whirlwind of procedures, tests, specialists, more tests. I moved to a gynecologist-oncologist for further action.
After meeting with the GYN-ONC, further testing and options for survival were discussed. I did my own research as well as seeking out second and third opinions. They all agreed that one of the safest and best chances of survival, and to avoid reoccurrence, would be cancer removal surgery and a total hysterectomy. Again I saw lips moving but could not hear correctly. I come from a large family and have always wanted children; I wanted to have twins (it ran in my family). So, to have everything removed with no chance to birth children? I thought it was crazy. I didn’t let myself go there.
I decided at age 33 that I wanted to live. I decided I would have a total hysterectomy. Being a single woman there was not much of a discussion to have with anyone else. It was my decision—and only my decision—to make. I went into survival mode. My best distraction was thinking of surviving and comforting my family with reassurances that all would be well. I figured I would get over never being able to carry a child, so I buried (I thought).
I survived multiple surgeries, treatments, and medical procedures. I was healing well. The doctor’s report was favorable that the cancer was eradicated and my chances of survival were good. I was almost a year out from my initial cancer diagnosis when it happened. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t initially recognize it as grief. I know I was feeling sad or contemplative, but it didn’t hit me all at once. It wasn’t any one moment but a series of moments.
I was celebrating several girlfriends and their impending births, and I was empty inside. My home was the hangout for my nieces and my nephew about to be born, but I just felt blah. I was the dutiful friend and sister, planning baby showers and helping where I could; I thought I was alright. I never addressed this suppressed feeling… I cannot have children. All these thoughts, rushing through my mind…I cannot have children… I will not experience childbirth…
To anyone reading this: Allow yourself to feel, allow yourself to hurt, allow the tears to flow—most importantly, allow yourself to grieve. Don’t let anyone put a timetable on your feelings. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should be. I don’t live with regret; the decision I made during treatment saved my life, and I would make again. But it’s been twenty years, and even though the ache has eased, I still grapple with what could have been.Leave a Comment