Hope After Cancer Cathy's story
Cathy (she/her) - White British
Diagnosed in 2018 - Endometrial Cancer
I am, I can, I will. Live Life to the full. Do what makes you happy
I was diagnosed with Endometrial cancer in the summer of 2018. To say it was a shock would be an understatement.
I’d thought I was going through menopause and had been going backwards and forwards to various GP’s until I found one who took me seriously. She suggested trying a localised oestrogen treatment, which appeared to work.
It was almost as an aside that I told her “oh and I’ve had a period”. Cue emergency referral to the local hospital, months of tests and scans and the dreaded cancer diagnosis. This was followed by a total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo oophorectomy.
The time waiting for tests (and test results) seemed interminable. But once cancer was confirmed, surgery happened so fast I barely had time to take it all in. I remember waking up from the surgery feeling lucky to be alive and very happy. (Although that last bit may have been due to the drugs!).
Once home I was determined nothing was going to beat me. I pottered around at home, taking care not to lift things. I gave myself daily injections. I counted the days until I could have a long relaxing bath, not just a shower.
I later found my body shape had changed and I had to buy new clothes to fit the new me. That’s something no-one tells you. Out went tight jeans and in came tailored or elastic waist trousers. It also became time to embrace floaty dresses.
Most of all, I wanted to know how long recovery would take and whether I was progressing as planned. Just like having a book on baby stages, I craved a book on cancer recovery stages.
I wanted, (needed, even) to talk to others that had been through what I was going through and had come out the other side. General online forums did not work for me. I needed to talk to people with the same cancer as mine.
Unfortunately, the hospital did not have a gynae cancer support group. Despite being the fourth most common cancer in women, the only womb cancer support group I managed to find was an online one. Based on the Isle of Bute, it did not offer anything interactive.
I tried speaking to the oncology nurses and local Macmillan services to get a specialist support group started locally but it never came to fruition. However, the local Macmillan team did offer talks and workshops on things such as healthy eating and dealing with fatigue. I made sure I attended every class going. Also very helpful were the complementary therapies offered by the hospital.
I attended the hospital’s mediation and relaxation sessions. Previously I’d been someone who didn’t have time to sit down and meditate. Now I found the quiet moments spent focusing on gentle sounds and breathing very relaxing.
But the old need to be in control was still there. I was determined nothing was going to get in the way of my recovery and return to normal. Just like ticking off the days to a bath, I ticked off the weeks to being able to drive, to travel, to swim etc.
I was horrified to discover that being allowed a full massage would not be possible for at least a year. Again, no-one tells you that you will need a specially trained beauty therapist for post cancer massage. Actually, it took two years and a specialist oncology masseuse before I was able to have a full massage again. Some things just can’t be hurried.
Another thing to not hurry, was the return to work. My job involved a fair bit of bending down and even, on occasion, rehanging a door. I was in no rush to return to doing that. However, after four months post-surgery recovery, I did return to work. It was fun, even if I had to get colleagues to rehang the door, as I still wasn’t lifting things.
I was doing great. Batting away everything life threw at me. Not just the cancer, but a number of bereavements and a severe chest infection. Powering through until I couldn’t power any more. And then I crashed. Crashed big time.
Everything that had happened over the year hit me like a ton of bricks and I found I could no longer cope. I realised I could not go back to my old life and my old ways of doing things. My old life was too stressful. I now had a new life and I needed to develop new ways of coping.
"Yes, I had needed strength to fight the cancer and to get the treatment I needed. But I also needed to be kind to myself. I needed nurturing."
By now I had found a local cancer support group, called Life After Cancer. There I met a lot of people who had been through the ringer and came out the other side. They were getting on with life, albeit a different life to the one they had thought they would be living.
I went on the Life After Cancer course, which I can’t recommend highly enough. It helped me to plan out a new future and to see what I could achieve.
I spoke to someone, soon after I returned to work, about their cancer and they said you never “get over it.” At the time I did not understand what they meant. It’s only with hindsight I can see it.
Cancer is like grief. I needed to grieve for the old life I had which was no more. I needed to learn to be positive about my new life and the future I will have now. You don’t forget about your old life, you just come to terms with the new.