Readers of my blog followed along two years ago as I learned my father had cancer, had a 12-hour complex surgery, and thankfully recovered and is now 2 years cancer free. I, to this day, thank MSK every day for saving my father’s life. But while I was praying for my dad, I forgot that he is not the only one who can get cancer. Almost two years to the day on the anniversary of finding out my dad had cancer, my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
While my dad’s diagnosis came as a shock, my mom was less so. With my Dad he had some tooth problems that was suddenly cancer. My mom was different. She woke up one morning and noticed she was bleeding. She is 70 and post-menopausal so she knew immediately something was wrong. My mom went to a specialist and had a slew of tests including a biopsy. As they did the tests, I did the research and knew as they did each test, the likelihood of it being something besides cancer was slim. When the news came, it was quite a shock to my mom but not to me. I was upset, I was sad, but I was not as surprised. More importantly, having gone down this road before, I was also prepared.
Prior to the first oncologist appointment, I was able to do research. I had my questions ready. The oncologist was able to set us at ease right from the start. My mother had endometrial uterine cancer. Which, while still cancer, is a fairly treatable cancer. Right away he scheduled a hysterectomy as the first course of action. I booked a flight, and even though I promised I would not fly again until vaccinated, I found myself on a plane to Richmond, Virginia.
During a nerve wracking 3 hours they took out my mom’s ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and several lymph nodes. Then, as my mom recovered, it was all sent to the lab. The next week, I spent with my mom helping her recover. She had never had a major surgery before, so honestly, I was worried how she would react. I should have never doubted her. Right away she was getting up and walking. Everyday we walked a little bit. Every day she went further and further. Within a few days she was off any pain killers at all. Soon she was cleaning around the house without any trouble. I was thoroughly impressed with how strong my mom was.
On my second to last day in Virginia, the lab work from the surgery posted to my mom’s account. The report was pretty clear. No cancer in the ovaries, tubes, or lymph nodes. Stage 1a in the uterus. We had caught it early; it had not spread. The next week my mom’s doctor confirmed that she was officially cancer free. She would be on a close monitoring program for the next few years, but he felt confident we got it before any spread could occur. I was so happy; it was overwhelming.
With the pandemic this has been a different process. I was not able to ever meet the oncologist in person due to the strict limit on guests in the room. It was entirely virtual. At the hospital, they let me, and my stepfather wait in the surgical waiting area, but they only allowed 1 guest a day up to her room. There was an awkward dance when they let us know that as to who got to go, my stepfather or me. I let my stepfather go, but I really really wanted to. My stepfather the next day, took me to the hospital, and let me go out and help her as she was discharged. I know he wanted to because he was worried about her as well. But we knew how important this was to each of us. We had to be careful with any visitors because we could not let my mom get sick. She had made a COVID vaccination appointment, but the surgeon asked her to wait until after the surgery to take the shot, as he did not want any complications prior to surgery. She thankfully was cleared to take it about a week after, and we got an appointment quickly. But the scariest one was the day I was supposed to fly to my mom, my son suddenly had a bad cough and runny nose. He gets terrible seasonal allergies, but I could not take that chance. At 1 pm my husband found an appointment in the city that did child rapid tests and paid $125 so we could get the results in an hour. The doctor tried to convince us it was not necessary, but my husband told him “My wife is getting on a plane in a few hours to her mother about to have surgery for cancer. We cannot take a chance; we need to know now.” It was negative and worth every penny.
It has also had me asking questions about my own health. My whole life, I have always told doctors there is no history of cancer in my family. Now, not only have both my parents had cancer, through this process I found out that my cousin who died of cancer, died of metastasized uterine cancer. I also learned that my grandmother and great grandmother on my mother’s side died of “lady problems”, in hospitals in Honduras. We will never know what they really died of, but signs point to undiagnosed cancers. After my mom was settled, I made an appointment with my own doctor and had a long hard conversation about this. No one wants to think of their own mortality, but I now had to face the reality that cancer is a part of my family and I can either run scared or face it head on. We discussed it and decided we would do some genetic testing to see what markers I have. We can use this to help us make decisions on my health and decisions on anything proactive I may want to do. It is not an emergency and we can take it slow. But we can be on alert and watch now. And now I feel better knowing that I have a plan, and a path forward, and we will tackle whatever comes my way.
It is never easy when you hear someone you love has cancer. But knowing how to handle it helps ease some of the anxiety. I am incredibly lucky; I now have two parents that fought and beat cancer. I have friends who are less lucky. But now I also have been able to take hold of my own future and health. My son, when he heard the news of my mother, asked me if I was going to get cancer. I do not know, I may, but at least now I know what it takes to fight it. And I have two great role models to look up to.