A’s Cancer Journey

I created this page to have the chronicle of my cancer journey in order, all in one place. Please note that I‘m not a doctor and nothing I share here should be construed as medical advice – but if my journey and the choices I made along the way help another woman with endometrial cancer, then – to me – that’s all to the good.

This page is more of an outline of my journey, and there are links throughout that link back to blog posts that I wrote along the way. The blog posts themselves will have more details than what you read here, and plenty of photos.

Journey to Diagnosis

November 2020

My journey began in November 2020 in the middle of the COVID pandemic and before we had vaccines. I wouldn’t know it was a cancer journey until months later . . . Early in the month I started bleeding from an orifice that no post-menopausal woman should bleed from. If you’re not to that life stage yet, for future reference: any post-menopausal bleeding must be checked out right away by your OB/GYN. It started on a Thursday, I rang the doc on Friday, and by Monday I was in for an ultrasound and uterine biopsies. If you’ve never had those, they hurt. Thankfully, the doc chalked it up to a hormonal imbalance and the biopsies came back benign. Still, I spent a tense few days waiting on results. He adjusted the progesterone piece of my Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), and asked me to come back in three months for a follow up ultrasound. The bleeding stopped.

March 2021

I went back to the OB/GYN at the end of the month and had another transvaginal ultrasound. There was a growth in my cervix, but he didn’t think it was anything serious. It hadn’t grown or changed shape since the ultrasound I’d had in November 2020. Unfortunately for me his practice no longer took Medicare, which was about to start for me. I asked what I should do if the bleeding came back and he said he would refer me to another OB/GYN that he trusted who takes Medicare.

May 2021

I started bleeding again, so I messaged my OB/GYN and got the name of the new OB/GYN. Dr. Kleinberg.

June 2021

The bleeding was sort of off and on again – sometimes enough to have to remember how to put the occasional tampon in (TMI? ;-D). I hesitated before I rang Dr. Kleinberg’s office for an appointment. I had had my previous OB/GYN for 27 years. Starting over with someone new when I figured I must need a D&C wasn’t something I was looking forward go. I needn’t have worried. Dr. Kleinberg rocks. I had another transvaginal ultrasound and then met him. He spent a lot time with me, asked me a lot of questions, and answered all of mine. I’m a big question-asker. He did an exam and said I would need a D&C, sometime in July.

July 2021

D&C scheduled for July 12, 2021

D&C rescheduled to August 9, 2021

I don’t know why it had to be rescheduled, but the cousin who would be my person that day – they don’t let you drive yourself home after a D&C – could only be be person every other Monday due to her childcare schedule. We picked a Monday in early August when she was available. I was still bleeding off and on, but not as much as before.

August 2021

D&C rescheduled to September 13, 2021

Yes, once again, they rescheduled me. This time for a Monday when my cousin couldn’t drive me, so we had to go to September 13th. I was still bleeding, but not heavily.

September 13, 2021

September 13th was the charm. My cousin came and got me and we drove downtown in the early morning to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for my D&C. Before the procedure, I joked with the interns and Dr. Kleinberg, saying that if they wanted to just take my uterus while they were in there that I probably wouldn’t miss it because I had never used it (I never had any children). Of course that’s not what happened. The procedure went well, and afterward Dr. Kleinberg told me that he found a large polyp in my uterus that he removed along with the scrapings from the D&C and sent everything to pathology. He said the pathology results would be back in about a week.

Here is a link to my blog post of this timeline.

Diagnosis and Pre-Surgery Journey

September 15, 2020

Nothing prepares you to hear that you have cancer. I remember feeling unmoored from my body – like I was floating – and thinking that this couldn’t possibly be true, but they had found cancerous cells in the polyp. I learned a lot during this phone call with Dr. Kleinberg – the most hopeful being that it was possible that the cancer was contained within the polyp because they didn’t find any cancer cells in the scrapings from my lining (this is also why the biopsies I had back in November 2020 were clear). He said it was Grade 1, which meant that we caught it early. He also shared that endometrial cancer was highly treatable and that if it hadn’t spread that I would not even need chemo or radiation.

Then he said that the treatment would be for me to have a complete hysterectomy along with a couple of lymph nodes. I remember asking him could we go and do the surgery the next day? We both laughed, and he said no, that he was referring me to an oncology gynecologist at Northwestern, Dr. Edward Tanner, and that I would likely see Dr. Tanner the next week. If you read Dr. Tanner’s profile and watched his video, you can see that Dr. Kleinberg had chosen the the perfect doctor for me. And I realized that I really am 65 years old because Dr. Tanner looked like Doogie Howser to me. :-D

Here is a link to a blog post with more about this day.

September 16-17, 2021

I jumped in to what would become my life in the coming weeks. I called to get an appointment with Dr. Tanner. First available was October 4, 2021, but the woman who made the appointment told me that Dr. Tanner’s team would be contacting me in the next couple of business days and would likely get me in sooner. In fact, they called the next day and said Dr. Tanner had a cancellation on Monday, September 20th and they asked could I come then. Of course I said yes.

Here is a link to a blog post with more details about these days.

September 18, 2021

I broke up with the man I had been in a relationship with. It had been coming for awhile, but he was not supportive when I received my cancer diagnosis. That was it for me. I hope with all my heart that this never happens to you.

Here is a link to a blog post with more details about this day.

September 20, 2021

In one week, I had a D&C, learned I had cancer, broke up with the man I had been seeing, and was in Dr. Tanner’s office for my appointment with him. One week. My entire life was turned upside down in one week. You guys, it was a really lot to process. Even though I was nervous, I was also very glad to be seeing Dr. Tanner so soon. I found it funny in an odd sort of way that people said “Hi, how are you?” with a smile. My response: I’m great – except I have cancer.

The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern is one of the top cancer centers in the country. I know how lucky I was to have been treated there. The Maggie Daley Center for Women’s Cancer Care is an amazing place for women with cancer, but the waiting room was not all that uplifting. I was already nervous and Dr. Tanner was running late. The lighting was low and the women who were arriving, waiting, and leaving were in various stages of treatment for cancer. Some had turbans on. Some with hair just growing back. Some in wheelchairs. Some with caregivers. All ages. All sizes. All races. Cancer doesn’t discriminate based on age, color, or creed . . . Somehow, being there, in the waiting room and then in the exam room made everything much more real for me. I felt my heart in my throat more than once. Even though I knew in my head that the type of cancer I had has a 99% cure rate and mine was Grade 1, my heart hadn’t quite caught up.

But after this appointment, I knew for sure that Dr. Kleinberg had picked the perfect surgeon for me. As mentioned previously – I’m the kind of person who asks a lot questions, and no one tried to rush me or brushed off any of my concerns. Dr. Tanner is a patient and kind man. Every person on his team was patient and kind. All my questions that could be answered were answered (some would have to wait until after my next surgery), and I felt a lot better leaving his office than I did when I had arrived.

Some of the things I learned this day included:

  • I was a candidate for minimally invasive surgery.
  • My surgery would be minimally invasive – five little cuts and everything would come out the vagina.
  • It would be outpatient surgery under general anesthesia (!) I could hardly believe this!
  • I would be restricted from lifting any more than 10 pounds for six weeks post surgery.

Here is a link to a blog post with more details about my appointment with Dr. Tanner.

September 21-22, 2021

These two days were rough for me. On the 21st I found out that there was a possibility that I had been indirectly exposed to COVID on September 19th. It turned out to have been a false alarm, but it was all I could think about. On the 22nd I had been scheduled for three other annual appointments – when they found out that there was a chance I had been exposed, even though it had been four days and I had no symptoms, only my primary care doctor wanted to see me.

Here is a link to a blog post with more details from these craptastic two days.

September 25, 2021

The surgery scheduler called this day and gave me my surgery date. It would be October 29, 2021. That gave me some breathing room to prepare my home and myself for major abdominal surgery. Just because it’s minimally invasive doesn’t mean it’s not major. I was still so overwhelmed . . . But at the same time, I realized that there were things I was going to need to take care of. I would be recovering for six weeks and would be restricted from lifting things until December 10, 2021.

I figured there would likely be snow on the ground by then – so I needed to get stuff taken care of sooner rather than later. You know, things like taking the hammock apart and storing it in the garage for the winter. Changing the screens on the security door for the storms. Covering the gazebo furniture for the season. Stuff like that.

And always, in the back of my mind, I would think: “I have cancer.”

I knew I was not the cancer. I knew I was going to be fine. I am grateful that if I had to have cancer, it was one that is so treatable and has such a high cure rate. But “I have cancer” just showed up unbidden. It became my job to let that thought go.

Here is a link to a blog post with more about this day.

Late September/Early October 2021

And so I started preparing for my healing weeks before my surgery. I live alone and it was important to me that I be ready for whatever might be coming down the pike. I had started telling friends and family about my diagnosis on an individual basis, and I had started writing (but not posting) about everything I was experiencing and feeling. I learned that I would need to wait to get my COVID booster until after my recovery period. I wanted to wait a little longer before going public with my cancer diagnosis. By this point I had begun to process more and more and I knew how lucky I was that we had caught this early and that I had such an awesome medical team.

Here is a link to a blog post about this time period.

October 5, and 15-18, 2021

And thus began the great pre-surgery prep. I was still dealing with a lot of feelings and had a blue day or two (and I passed another kidney stone. Ugh). But, for the most part, I was powering through getting my home ready for my recovery. Stuff would occur to me and I would realize I likely would not be able to physically do stuff after surgery that I take for granted in my everyday life. Things like how would I get my gym shoes on if I couldn’t bend over? How was I going to pick stuff up off the floor if I dropped it? I was sending message after message through the portal to Dr. Tanner’s office and they were so responsive – again answering every question I asked.

On October 15th, one month after I received my diagnosis, I decided to share it publicly on Facebook, Instagram, and on my blog. I was so excited to have my house so serene and ready.

Here is a link to the blog post with more details about these days.

October 22-23, 2021

I was one week out from surgery and things were still occurring me that I realized I needed to get done before October 29th. Before I retired early, I had been a business and competitive intelligence researcher for a national law firm in Chicago, so it’s second nature to me to go out on the Web and search for information. You really have to stay on reputable web sites. Seriously. It’s far too easy to end up seeing and reading stuff that is just upsetting and probably doesn’t even apply to you.

Here is a link to the blog post with more details about these days.

October 25, 2021

My pre-surgery to-do list was dwindling, and I pulled out what was going to become one of my most important tools, post-surgery: The Grabber! :-D I realized I would need to use my guest room shower instead of the one in my bathroom. A friend recommended a book to me, entitled Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster. It’s not long and I ended up buying the download of the guided imagery that the author recorded. It really helped me in the final days before surgery.

October 26-28, 2021

These were my final three days before surgery.

October 26th

Final yard and other outdoor prep happened this day.

October 27th

One of the most important steps of my cancer journey happened today: I asked for help.

Even though Dr. Tanner had said I might not need any help after my surgery, one of my friends was coming to stay with me that first night. By the 27th, I was anxious about how I would do on my own after major abdominal surgery even though it would be minimally invasive, so I emailed and asked her if she could stay a second night. Turns out she was already planning on it ;-)

I had been so excited to have my house straightened up and serene, but by now, my kitchen counters/bar had become Recovery Central, with many items at hip height where I would not need to bend or reach too far for anything. I realized I wouldn’t be able to deal with the bottom rack of the dishwasher, so I bought paper plates and bowls, which turned out to be a great plan. There’s an example of how amazing and patient Dr. Tanner’s staff were with me and my questions in this blog post (link below).

My freezer was very well-stocked with plenty of good food.

October 28th

Things started to go pear-shaped this morning and then disaster stuck and – thankfully – was averted. My cousin’s child was sent home from school because it turned out that she’d been exposed to COVID four day previous, which meant my cousin had also potentially been exposed. I had no ride to the hospital . . . until I messaged with the friend who would be staying with me. She came out a night early and was my person for surgery – and as it turned out she ended up being the perfect person to have with me.

Here is a link to the blog post with more detail about these final days pre-surgery.

Surgery Day

October 29, 2021

Finally the big day was here. What I’m going to share with you here was my experience. Your experience could differ.

I was nervous and anxious. When they called the day before surgery to give me my time (12 noon), the operating room nurse/scheduler told me that the surgery would be 3 – 3 1/2 hours long and that I would be in recovery for at least 4 hours. Because I had never had a major surgery before, I had no idea that things would take that long! When they took my blood pressure it was very high for me – like 185/84, I think. My normal blood pressure is about 110/70 so I know I was anxious. As it had been with the D&C, everyone who was prepping me for surgery was kind and gentle. I was there two hours before, and the time went very quickly. One of the things I had learned from the Prepare for Surgery book was to create a short list of healing statements that could be read to me while I was being put under anesthesia, during the procedure, and while I was in recovery. I had copies of the statements and I asked everyone – including Dr. Tanner and the anesthesiologist – to please say them to me. They all said they would, and more than a few of the medical staff said that they loved doing it and that they did it all the time for people! Here are the statements I asked for:

  • As I was going under anesthesia: “Adrienne, following this procedure you will feel comfortable and you will heal very well.”
  • If I was anxious during the procedure: “Adrienne, your mom is here, she’s rubbing your forehead.”
  • At the end of the procedure: “Adrienne, your procedure has gone very well. When you wake up you will feel comfortable and you will heal very well.”
  • Also at the end of the procedure: Adrienne, Following this procedure you will be hungry for soup. You will be thirsty and urinate easily.”

I believe these helped me. Soon they were taking me to surgery. I was still awake when we got to the operating room, but not for long.

I had a hard time coming out of the anesthesia, but the recovery nurses let my friend come back a little earlier than normal and she was a seriously calming presence for me. I remember a few things while going in and out, and then I was awake. I recall hearing someone say that if my blood pressure didn’t come down they would have to give me something to bring it down, and then I was back out. My friend confirmed that the nurse did say this and that they did have to give me something to lower my blood pressure. The next time I woke up I was hearing myself insisting that I had to pee and trying to get up. The nurses were holding me down and they managed to get a bedpan under me while I kept insisting I had to get up to pee. Once the bedpan was under me, they asked me if I was peeing. I remember looking them like they were crazy and saying, “I can’t pee!” like why were they even asking me?! They told me later that my catheter had just been removed and that sometimes the removal creates the sensation of urgently needing to pee.

The next time I woke up I remained groggy, but awake. By that time I really did have to pee and the nurses helped me get up and safely to the bathroom. It hurt! But they said that the more I went the less it would hurt – and they were right. They got me back into bed – I was worn out from a trip to the potty! In case you were wondering, the post-surgery underwear they give you to wear is not very comfortable, but it does the job.

During surgery they must have taped some things to my forehead (not knowing that I have fragile skin), because my forehead had petechiae from where they pulled the tape off. The nurses helped me get dressed and my friend and I left the hospital around 8:30 p.m. for the hour ride home. I had taken a soft pillow with me and placed it between me and the seat belt. It helped, but man, I felt every bump in the road all the way home!

I did not blog on my surgery day, and I didn’t post the photo of me in recovery because it’s scary and I didn’t look that way for very long.

Recovery

October 31, 2021

I was two days post-op. There’s a photo in the blog post where you can see the petechiae on my forehead. I spent most of my time propped up in the nest I made for myself on the sofa in my sunroom. I was up and walking, albeit slowly. I was able to take a shower after 24 hours post-op, and I have to say that having my own underwear on made everything much easier (and more comfortable). :-D I really had no idea what to expect, but I was far more mobile than I thought I would be!

Having a friend with me for two days after surgery was a very good plan for me. As independent and capable as I am, I really needed the help. She helped me with a med schedule and made sure I had healthy food to eat that I didn’t have to cook myself. She also picked up my baggy pajama pants when they fell down that first night and I realized I couldn’t bend over and pick them up by myself!

Here is a link to the blog post from this day.

November 3, 2021

Five days post-op. I decided to see if I could get dressed and actually walk to the corner. My discharge instructions said to walk as much as I could tolerate. They pump gas into your abdominal cavity during minimally invasive surgery. My waist was 2 1/2″ bigger, and my hips were 1 1/2″ bigger than before surgery! You burp and toot this gas out over time. I was my own symphony there for awhile :-D The walking really helped my body eliminate the gas. Oh, and learning to go to the bathroom after a surgery like this was interesting. . .

Here is a link to the blog post from this day.

November 5, 2021

One week post-op. I learned that shorter walks more frequently was a better plan than longer walks. There’s a picture of Recovery Central. Sitting up for longer periods of time was not comfortable, so I was still spending most of my time on the sofa. They glued me back together! My five incisions were each about 2 centimeters long! There’s a photo :-D I was hopeful to get my pathology results this day.

Here is a link to the blog post with more details from this day.

November 8, 2021

When I hadn’t heard anything on Friday, I sent a message through the portal. One of the nurse practitioners messaged me back and said “Great news – no residual cancer!” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I figured it was good. I couldn’t get back to send another message until after everyone was already gone for the weekend. But I got it clarified on Monday that no, it had not spread (no chemo or radiation!!), and yes – I was cancer-free :-)

Here is a link to the blog post with this joyful news.

November 9, 2021

A week and a half post-op. I had stopped bleeding by this time. I found that I was better able to tolerate sitting up for longer periods of time, but I was still in my jams most days. When I messaged with the nurse practitioner yesterday, she also said that since I have had the hysterectomy, the chance of recurrence is very, very slim. I am reminded to always focus on what I want. From the beginning I focused on being in that 99% cure rate :-) I took a longer walk today – apparently forgetting that shorter walks more frequently worked better for me . . .

Here is a link to the blog post from this day.

November 10, 2021

I had to keep reminding myself that I had major abdominal surgery less than two weeks ago. I was still dealing with gas being reabsorbed into my GI tract, and I had to take Colace twice a day again to be sure things kept moving, if you get my drift. ;-D I was warned repeatedly by the surgeon’s nurses and in my post-op instructions to not get constipated while I was healing. That’s what the Colace was for.

I felt like I was listening to my body. One of the things that really helped my system release the gas was walking. That this was the best exercise for me post-surgery was an added bonus. I was beginning to seriously miss my daily walks around the retention pond near my home. On this day I decided to at least get to the pond. I walked along one side of the pond and back home, which was the farthest I’d walked to that point.

November 11, 2021

The longer walk was not a good plan. I started spotting. Even though I read in my discharge instructions that spotting was normal in the first couple of weeks, I fired off another message through the portal and was reassured that it was normal, and was reminded to not walk longer distances. I got better with the Grabber, and the first hunk of glue came off one of my incisions.

Here is a link to the blog post with more details from this day.

November 15, 2021

Just over two weeks post-op. On Friday November 12th I took my first field trip! My cousin came and got me and took me to the fresh market near my home. I had dialed back my walking, but the fresh market is about a quarter of the size of a regular grocery store, so I figured I would be OK. My cousin pushed the cart and dealt with getting all the groceries out to the car and then into the house.

On Saturday she took me to Walgreens for more Colace. When she asked did I want to go and walk at the healthclub the next day, I wisely declined. I managed to change my sheets and do laundry this day, but I was most excited to graduate to sitting my regular chair, albeit with pillow-assist :-D

Here is a link to the blog post with more details from this day.

November 17, 2021

By this time I was really missing my formerly daily walks around the retention pond.

November 18, 2021

They said I could drive after two weeks, but I waited almost three. This day I took a very short drive to the eye doctor! The pillow between me and the seat belt really gave me a sense of safety.

November 23, 2021

Three and a half weeks post-op. Driving was going well, but I still had to take my cousin with me to the grocery store to push the cart and deal with getting the groceries into the car and then into the house. I was able to lessen my pain meds by this date, but since I overdid it during week two of my recovery I was much more mindful about walking shorter distances. I was feeling like I was making progress.

Here is a link to a blog post with more details about this day.

November 25, 2021

Just shy of four weeks post-op. Thanksgiving Day. I had so much to be grateful for this year – that was for sure. I felt like I turned a corner during this fourth week of recovery. I was still struggling with sleep due to not being able to take HRT any longer. This was tough. I wasn’t sleeping well at all – every 2-3 hours I was up, going to the bathroom and then struggling to fall back asleep. I had also begun experiencing hot flashes again – ones where I didn’t sweat. My body would just get super hot, almost like the feeling you have when you have a fever, and then it would dissipate.

Here is a link to my Thanksgiving post about this day.

November 29, 2021

Just past four weeks post-op. I had my post-op follow up with the surgeon this day and all the news was good! I was still healing inside, but everything was going well. Just two more weeks before the weight lifting and major bending restrictions would be lifted. We discussed the trouble I had been having sleeping since I stopped HRT and the possibility and safety of my starting to take it again. Also my request to work with a pelvic floor physical therapist was received with enthusiasm.

Here is a link to a blog post with details about this day.

December 2, 2021

I was beginning to see how much differently I look at things since my diagnosis. I was also physically feeling how much better I felt from even a week ago. I took a wonderful walk on what was an amazingly beautiful day, and I pretty much dismantled “recovery central” in my kitchen, putting away most of the items I had needed to have out where I could access them without bending in the earlier weeks of my recovery.

Here is a link to a blog post with more about this day.

December 5, 2021

Just past five weeks post-op. I did too much again . . . I had some more light spotting after having taken that longer walk on the 2nd, and I realized that I was really going to have to slow myself down. Again.

Here is a link to a blog post about this day.

December 13, 2021

I made it through my recovery period! I was still struggling with slowing myself down and was still experiencing some groin pain on the left side where my lymph node used to be, but I had already started to make some progress.

Here is a link to a blog post about this day.

December 25, 2021 Merry Christmas!!

This was the day, 8 weeks and 1 day post-op that I made it all the way around the pond again. I was pretty damn happy about it, too!

Here is a link to a blog post about this day.

January 10, 2022

I didn’t expect to have feelings of loss come up for me. But they did. I didn’t recognize them initially and I tried to push them away. I realized that that is never helpful and started sitting with them and allowing myself to experience them.

here is a link to a blog post about this day.

January 18, 2022

I began to find myself truly examining my life and how I wanted it to look going forward, because receiving a cancer diagnosis changed everything for me. Learning I was cancer-free changed things even more and I began to make some decisions.

Here is a link to a blog post with more details.

February 15, 2022

Had a quick check-in with my gynecologist about my estrogen patch. I’m on the very lowest dose – lower even than the pill I used to take – and it’s working really, really well for me. I was also able to finally return to the health club in early February. I lost a lot of strength, but by mid-month I could see that it was beginning to return!

Here is a link to a blog post with more details.

May 2022

Had my 6-month check post-op. I’ll be having these every six months for awhile, alternating between my gynecologist and my surgeon. And my upper body strength has come back – and I’ve surpassed where I was prior to surgery!

Here is a link to a blog post with more details.

September 1, 2022

The first time I recognize Uterine/Endometrial Cancer Awareness Month. On September 15th, it will be one year from my diagnosis. Lots of feelings . . .

Here is a link to a blog post about this.

A Year and Beyond

October 29, 2022

The 1-year anniversary of my being a cancer survivor. I remain grateful that I am cancer-free. It’s been a year of healing, and of learning. Onward we go :-)

Here is a link to a blog post about this.


This page will continue to be updated as my recovery journey continues. You can subscribe to my blog in the left sidebar to be notified when new posts are live.

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