Hearing that you have cancer can be daunting. For some, it may be easier to accept what is being advised, no questions asked. But when you have cancer, you’re in for the fight of your life. You have to take ownership of your fate and not give up. Your very life may depend on it.
Despite my family history of cancer—my father had colorectal cancer, his father had gallbladder cancer, and my father’s mother died of what was believed to be uterine cancer—when I complained to my gynecologist about postmenopausal bleeding in the spring of 2011, I was told not to worry about it. By the next year, after the bleeding had resumed, an ultrasound picked up a uterine polyp that looked benign. A biopsy from a follow-up dilation and curettage procedure found the presence of cancer cells, but the original site was unclear.
After numerous tests (including a colonoscopy and a CT scan) turned up nothing, my doctor recommended that I have a complete hysterectomy, and that’s when it was determined that the polyp was in fact malignant. The diagnosis was carcinosarcoma of the uterus, also known as malignant mixed Mullerian tumor, with lymphovascular invasion. Biopsies of 72 lymph nodes taken from the surrounding area were clear of malignancy, and my cancer was staged as IA.
My oncologist recommended six rounds of adjuvant carboplatin and paclitaxel, and my radiologist recommended both vaginal brachytherapy and external-beam radiation therapy.
Second and Third Opinions
Being told by my gynecologist that nothing was wrong after I first began having symptoms of uterine cancer had taught me the lesson of being proactive in my health care. I was determined to be fully informed before making any medical decisions, so I decided to seek out a second opinion. The second evaluation of the pathology report determined that I didn’t have carcinosarcoma after all and that I didn’t have lymphovascular invasion. Because my treatment protocol was entirely based on my original diagnosis and I wanted to be sure of getting treatment that would give me the best chance for a cure, I sought a third opinion.
The third evaluation concurred with the second that I didn’t have malignant mixed Mullerian tumor—good news—but found that I did have lymphovascular invasion. The process was maddening because now I was faced with questioning the need for both internal and external radiation if I didn’t have carcinosarcoma, but did have lymphovascular invasion. My radiologist said I should have—what else?—a second opinion. The consulting radiologist recommended that I only have vaginal brachytherapy.
After all the surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, I don’t know whether I’m actually cancer-free, but I’m happy to say there have been no signs of any errant cancer cells making their way throughout my body.
Putting Yourself First
Always an avid bicyclist, after my cancer diagnosis I became even more passionate about the sport. I joined a LIVESTRONG program at my local YMCA, took spinning classes to build up my strength and endurance, and recently led a 65-mile bicycle ride across my home state of Connecticut. I’m now in the best physical and mental shape of my life and feel better prepared to face whatever might happen next.
Before cancer paid me a visit, my family and work always came first. Now, cancer has allowed me to put my goals first.
Taking Ownership of Your Fate
I was fortunate to have an oncology team that encouraged me to have a second and even a third opinion after my diagnosis, but I know other patients may not feel comfortable questioning their oncologist’s recommendations. All patients with cancer have a right to pursue multiple opinions if that is what it takes to make them feel better prepared to face the challenge of beating this disease.
Hearing that you have cancer can be daunting. For some, it may be easier to accept what is being advised, no questions asked. But when you have cancer, you’re in for the fight of your life. You have to take ownership of your fate and not give up. Your very life may depend on it. ■
Sharon Timins is a vice president of an insurance company. She lives in South Windsor, Conneticut.