The whole of last month was a roller coaster ride for me.
My mother was diagnosed with Endometrial (or Uterine) Cancer, or Cancer of the Uterus, about a month ago, and had been scheduled to undergo a full hysterectomy.
I was in a state of shock, then panic. Once I had somewhat calmed down a little, I started doing as much research on this form of cancer as I could.
I am sharing what I have learnt today because I think there are many women, like myself, who simply have no idea about Endometrial cancer. And knowing how to spot the symptoms, and what we can do to take care of ourselves can save our lives as well as the lives of the women we care about.
My mother went through menopause about a decade ago. Around August this year, she found that she had some clear discharge. More annoyed with the inconvenience than anything else at that time, she told me about it. I asked her to see our family GP to have it checked out.
The GP gave my mom some medication. My mom also had a PAP Smear test done. The results came back negative. A month later, my mom found the discharge had turned bloody. I asked her to get a referral to see a gynecologist. At that point of time, I did not know that what my mom had, was one of the first symptoms of Endometrial Cancer.
My mom was referred to KK Hospital. There, they did an ultra-sound scan and discovered "something" in her uterus. There was so much mucus it was not possible to see what was really going on. The gynecologist recommended that my mom go through a round of dilation and curettage (D&C). This is a process where the lining of the uterus is removed surgically.
So my mom went for the D&C. The cells were then taken to be tested.
Less than a week later, we received a call from the gynecologist. It was bad news. The cells were cancerous.
My mom was scheduled to go for a full hysterectomy within a week. She also had to go for a CT Scan to see if the cancer had spread to other organs. In addition, we were advised that we would not know the full results until about 3 weeks after the surgery so as to allow for a full examination of the uterus, Fallopian tubes, Lymph nodes, ovaries and whatever else they were going to remove.
It was a horrible, horrible week. My mom underwent the surgery, which took way longer than predicted because after her two C-sects giving birth to my sister and myself, part of her uterus walls had fused with part of her bladder. Much time was spent trying to separate them. Mom was in a lot of pain after the surgery.
In the meantime, I talked to friends and family about what was happening. I was not exactly shocked to discover how little women know about this medical condition, seeing that I, myself, did not know much prior to this either.
I had faithfully gone for my PAP Smear every year (much as I dread the procedure) and naively, I thought that was enough.
Well, it is not enough. PAP Smear tests for the presence (or absence) of cervical cancer, and not uterus cancer. Ladies, we need to have ultrasound scans done as well when we go for our yearly PAP Smear.
In addition, I was appalled to discover that some one I know who is in her 30s was sure that she did not need to go for a PAP Smear because she "didn't need it yet" as she had just turned 30 not too long ago. As long as one is sexually active, one can develop cervical cancer, as one of the causes of cervical cancer is the Human papillomavirus (HPV) which can be spread through sex. The more sexual partners one had, the more susceptible one is to this virus.
I was chatting to some friends about my mom's medical condition when one of my friends mentioned that his ex-colleague's wife (who was very young then) had contracted uterus cancer and had passed away because of it. Okay, that was not very sensitive, seeing that I was ready to burst into tears each time I thought of my mom and cancer, but it did made me sit up and take note. In older women who already had gone through menopause, bleeding is a sign that something is wrong. But how about women who have not gone through menopause? How will we be able to tell?
I asked the gynecologist when I saw her again. She told me that we need to look out for abnormally heavy periods, and also abnormally lengthy periods in addition to having the PAP Smear and ultra-sound tests done yearly. Isn't it weird that we would faithfully see our gynecologists every month (sometimes more often) when we were pregnant so we could see if baby was alright, but when it comes to ourselves, we tend to have no time, or do not want to spend the money to see a specialist?
These are the common signs of Endometrial Cancer:
Abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting, or discharge
Pain or difficulty when emptying the bladder
Pain during sex
Pain in the pelvic area
The survival rate for patients who had contracted uterus cancer is very high, because most cases were discovered early, and women get treated asap.
My mom's test results were out last Friday, and the cancer cells were (thankfully) contained within the uterus. However, she was diagnosed with Stage 1B cancer because the cells were found in the deep tissues of the uterus.
It seems that we had caught it in the nick of time. My mom still has to go for a few rounds of radiotherapy (just in case) so we can somewhat breathe a little more easily.
This episode had shocked me to the core. After having read and read tons of information about Endometrial cancer, I want to share this with as many women (and men, I guess) as I can reach out to.
If discovered early, uterus cancer can be cured. We can save ourselves, and women we love, by being vigilant - look out for signs that something may not be quite right, and see a specialist as soon as possible.
I hope that you, too, can help to spread the word after having read this. Knowledge is power and when we are aware of what can happen, we can take steps to help ourselves.
Linking up with Sandra for Talkative Thursdays!