What I Did on Christmas Vacation

a k a Why LAST DITCH is late …

and why it might be important for your health.

I had surgery for endometrial cancer on Monday, December 28, 2015.

I won’t make you wait for this happy ending. The initial pathology report says I’m all clear after the surgery. Yes, there’s the final pathology report still to come. Also, I’ll need ongoing exams and tests (darn it!) to check for recurrence of endometrial cancer, but this was the best possible outcome of this procedure.

Why it might be important to you is that I’ve learned a whole lot about this since September. And one of the most important variables in beating the most prevalent type of endometrial cancer is catching it early.

Back in September, at a regular checkup with my doctor, as I prepared to leave, I said, “Oh, yeah, and I’ve had some bleeding.”

“Oh, yeah?” She was definitely not amused. Also wasn’t impressed when I said it was very light, very sporadic, maybe four incidences over six to nine months. It had seemed so innocuous I hadn’t really paid attention.

That was the start. I was sent for a transvaginal ultrasound and another test in October. They showed thickening of the endometrial stripe (I had no idea I had such a thing, much less that it could thicken) and what were thought to be fibroids.

fight cancer -- Patricia McLinnBecause of that thickening, I was sent for an ob/gyn biopsy. This biopsy checks only a tiny portion of the uterus, so it can confirm cancer but not rule it out. My biopsy was clear, which was good, but not definitive.

The next step was a D&C in November for a more extensive biopsy. No evident signs of cancer during the scope. However, they found a polyp, removed it, and sent it to pathology.

The doctor called a couple days later than I’d expected her to call with the pathology report and said there wasn’t a definitive answer. Some things indicated cancer, but other markers weren’t there. A second local pathologist came to the same conclusion. So they were sending the sample to a specialist at Mass General in Boston, which would take another week.

I asked the doctor to let me see the preliminary report while we waited. It included the word “suspicious.”

To this point, I was absolutely convinced that each of these steps would be the last one. I felt absolutely fine. I have no know family history of endometrial cancer. But seeing that word “suspicious” made me think, uh-oh.

So when the specialist came back and said the sample met the criteria for cancer, I wasn’t totally surprised. The specialist also wrote that the removal of the polyp might have removed all the cancer “but one cannot guarantee it.”

When it comes to cancer, a nonguarantee was not going to cut the mustard. The medical advice was a hysterectomy. So after talking to doctors (including a wonderful friend of the family), researching, juggling schedules with family and such, the surgery was set for Dec. 28.

I’m writing this as I’m in the hospital a second night (hope it’s the last one! I was told to expect 2-4 nights in the hospital. I plan on being on the short end.)

There are a few things I’ve learned that I hope might help someone out there.

  • If you have any “unscheduled” bleeding, tell your doctor immediately. Light, sporadic, unimpressive – doesn’t matter. Report it. I was fortunate that my doctor jumped on it. Not all do. So you might need to be assertive. If you are not menopausal it’s more complicated. Do not let that stop you – no one knows your body better than you do. When something’s “off,” new, different, report it and pursue it.
  • Do NOT think that feeling good means you don’t have an issue. Generally, you don’t feel bad with this cancer unless it’s progressed way past where you want it to be.
  • Recognize that the tests are going to be weird, uncomfortable, and unfun. Get them done anyway. Do them quickly.
  • You’ll need help. After anesthesia, such as for the D&C, hospitals won’t put you in a taxi. (I thought that was a great solution. The ob/gyn said she would not put me in a taxi with someone I didn’t know while still loopy from anesthesia. Okay, that was fair point.) Instead I needed family help. And more help for this surgery. Lots more. This is not easy for me. (I’m told my first spoken phrase was “Do it my ownself.”) But you do what you got to do.
  • Information is power. Find out what you need to know from good sources. I recommend:

Mayo Clinic — Including this succinct list of symptoms of endometrial cancer:

FireShot Screen Capture #098 - 'Endometrial cancer Symptoms - Mayo Clinic' - www_mayoclinic_org_diseases-conditions_endometrial-cancer_basics_symptoms_con-20033696

Cleveland Clinic

NIH’s National Cancer Center

  • Be as proactive as you can be in talking with the doctors and nurses. Your understanding of and comfort with what’s happening is vital. Some of the doctors didn’t seem to be accustomed to  my level of question-asking – I figure I’ve softened them up for all the patients who follow <wg>. The vast majority of the nurses were terrific, giving lots of information and answering lots of questions. Remember, though, that for doctors and nurses this is everyday stuff – the terms, the sequence, the protocols. You need to remind them that for you it is not everyday. Don’t let them rush through what’s familiar to them but leaves you confused or uncertain. Ask until you understand the answer, even if that means asking over and over.
  • Do not assume that because you have no family history or the major indicators that you’re exempt. By those criteria I wouldn’t have it. But here I am. And so are a lot of other women.
  • Getting this early is absolutely vital. Unlike too many cancers, endometrial cancer frequently gives us early symptoms. When nature gives you an early warning system, you cannot afford to ignore it. Caught early the prognosis is very good. But I’ve talked to doctors who have treated women who let it go for years – years! — or until they were bleeding profusely. Don’t. Do. This.
  • The diagnosis of cancer is NOT the bad news. Seriously.

A friend asked me after the pathology report came back as endometrial cancer if I was upset. I wasn’t happy, but honestly that was mostly because all the tests and procedures had messed with my writing schedule big-time and I realized that surgery was going to knock that schedule for a major loop. (Which explains why the release of LAST DITCH has been pushed back from November to February.)

But.

I also realized that not knowing would have been so, so, so much worse.

Whatever is going on in your body – cancer or otherwise – is already there. The diagnosis doesn’t change that, but it does give you a chance to DO something. To take action. To fight.

That’s what I’ve done. I hope it’s what you’ll do if you need to.

I also hope you’ll spread the word about the symptoms of this cancer so more women have the opportunity to fight it when the fight is winnable.

Good health to all of us in 2016.

P.S.  I DID get out of the hospital after two days. Home now, learning not to lift anything over 5 pounds for a spell.  Ah, but the laptop’s only 3 pounds! ‘-)

64 Responses to “What I Did on Christmas Vacation”
  1. Jan Hudson says:

    I’m glad to hear you’re doing well! Thanks for the health reminders; you may have saved someone’s life. Hope your dog does well, too.

  2. Patricia says:

    Thank you, Jan! And I so hope this might help someone act quickly!

  3. Alicia says:

    Hugs, Pat! I’m glad you’re doing so well. What a scary holiday though! Thanks for the information. I think we do think if we feel all right, we must be all right, and so ignore signs.

    Alicia

  4. Patricia says:

    Right, Alicia! No ignoring the signs!

  5. Sheila Fiske says:

    I’m sorry that you had to go through this. Thankful that you had wonderful doctors. Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

  6. Patricia says:

    I appreciate those wishes so much, Sheila!

  7. Wendy says:

    Pat,

    I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with this issue, but I’m so glad that things look good at this point. Thank you for sharing your story. That’s brave and admirable. I had to smile when I read your comment about being upset because the surgery and testing messed with your writing schedule. I totally get that.

    Sending warmest wishes for a New Year filled with excellent health, blissful days of writing, and many beautiful moments.

  8. Patricia says:

    Thank you so much for all those wonderful wishes, Wendy! … If you have any pull in the wish department, add one for faster writing 😉 Happy New Year to you, too!

  9. Jessy says:

    Hi! Patricia,

    Thanks for sharing your story and for the warning signs it has been helpful. As I was reading I was happy that you got help at the right time and that your Doctor was smart at picking up what was wrong. Like you said not all Doctor’s find out what is wrong at once.

    Wishing you a very Happy New Year with good health and many more wonderful stories for the World to read . Enjoy life and take care.

  10. Patricia says:

    Thank you, Jessy! I so appreciate your comments and wishes. I hope that as Kalli and settle in I’ll be able to get into a good writing rhythm — a FAST one

  11. Becky says:

    Dear Pat – sending healing thoughts your way. Thanks for sharing your experience. Wishing you health and happy writing in the new year!

    Hugs, Becky

  12. Patricia says:

    I love those wishes, Becky! Thank you so much for them, the healing thoughts and the hugs!

  13. Kay Hudson says:

    What an excellent summary! I ignored my spotting longer than I should have, but I’m here as a ten-year survivor to say that endometrial cancer is very curable with proper treatment. In my case that was just surgery (sometime I feel like I cheated a little, with no radiation or chemo), and having ovarian cancer in my family I was happy to be rid of the whole system.

    I was a hypochondriac for about a year after my hysterectomy, which I’m told is pretty normal. Now I rarely think about it. Glad to hear that all is going well for you.

    And, ladies, have a mammogram now and then, too.

  14. Patricia says:

    What a great message, Kay!! I’m so happy to have you as a role model. Great reminder on the mammogram.

  15. Sherri Marty says:

    I, myself, have had endometrial cancer, three years now cancer-free. I saw the signs early and for a change didn’t ignore them. Thanks for putting out there what other women may need to keep themselves safe.

    I’m sorry you, too, had to go through this because however caring the doctors are, it is VERY scary business. Just know that every day you will get healthier and stronger. Listen to the doctors, RELAX, and we’ll wait a few more months for Last Ditch.

  16. Patricia says:

    It’s so wonderful to hear that, Sherri — GREAT that you responded to the signs early, Sherri and three years cancer FREE!! 🙂 on waiting for LAST DITCH. I’m trying to get back into some routine. Darned naps keep waylaying me.

  17. Deb Stover says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey, Pat. Your strength and determination are inspiring. I’m proud to call you my friend, and will light a candle for your continued recovery. (((hugs))), Warrior Woman!

    ~Deb

  18. Patricia says:

    Thank you so much, Deb! Love the candle, can feel the hugs, and honored to be called a Warrior Woman! 🙂

  19. Kathy Nesfeder says:

    Sending prayers and thoughts your way. I will share your story and I won’t bug you to finish your books I love to read. Take care of yourself and spend some quality time with Kalli and REST!!!

  20. Patricia says:

    I so appreciate this, Kathy. It’s ~wonderful~ that you love the books. I’m trying to do all you say AND write

  21. Lynn Jordan says:

    I’m so glad you found the problem and took the steps needed to handle it. I’m also extremely grateful that you are sharing this important information with your fans.

    I had slight bleeding,which turned out to be a hormone imbalance. However, the tests revealed cervical cancer (that hadn’t caused any symptoms yet). Thanks for the reminder that we need to listen to our own bodies.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  22. Patricia says:

    Wow, Lynn — how great that you found the cervical cancer pre-symptoms. I much appreciate your wishes.

  23. Annette says:

    Pat, so glad to hear you are doing well. Excellent blog. Knowing you, I’m sure you’ll get home in two days. All good wishes for a healthy new year.

  24. Patricia says:

    Forty-six hours in the hospital, Annette! 😉

  25. Julie Ortolon says:

    So happy and relieved this ended well. And of course you got out of the hospital in only two days. Nothing can stand up to your will. Not even cancer. Sending good thoughts for continued good health and happy writing.

  26. Patricia says:

    Sure hope you’re right about that, Julie! And thank you for those good thoughts!!

  27. Cathryn Cade says:

    Patricia,

    Virtual hugs and healing prayers! Thank you so much for sharing your story. Hope it will save others too.

    best,
    Cathryn

  28. Patricia says:

    Thank you so much, Cathryn. If we all keep beating the drum …

  29. Kay Coyte says:

    That part about asking questions is crucial. Pat and I have reporter backgrounds so perhaps it comes easier for us. But everyone needs to remember that physicians are there to serve us, and they’re well-compensated for it, and it’s vital that we know everything we need to know. Sometimes the questions themselves bring up other points that the doctor needs to know, that may have been overlooked before.
    And it’s often good to have a friend or loved one with you during those critical diagnosis discussions — I now go to every appointment with my mother, take notes and ask the questions she might not.

  30. Patricia says:

    Love your great points about asking questions, Kay!

  31. Kathryn Shay says:

    Hugs, Pat. Thanks so much for sharing this very important information.

  32. Patricia says:

    Thank you so much, Kathryn!

  33. MaryAnn Whitbeck says:

    I would like to add that the American Cancer Society has a 1-800 number that is answered 24/7 with wonderful resources and support for everyone regardless of the form of cancer. 1-800-227-2345, knowledge is power.

  34. Patricia says:

    Fabulous point, MaryAnn Whitbeck. Thank you so much for adding this to the discussion!

  35. Fran Baker says:

    Be well, Pat. I’ll share this on FB. Your blog might save a life!

  36. Patricia says:

    Thanks so much for sharing it, Fran. And for your good thoughts.

  37. yvonne says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. 2 weeks ago, my Mom also had a hysterectomy . Her story is similar to yours. Though now she is doing very well, she was told she needed 3 sessions of radiation.
    So ladies, we do need to be proactive.
    Blessings to you for a quick recovery and lots of health in the new year.

  38. Patricia says:

    Sending good thoughts for your mom, Yvonne. Yes, absolutely on being proactive.

  39. Sonnetta Jones says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am glad of your all clear results. My doctor was very proactive when I found my lump. It turned out to be Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Did not show any overt symptoms. It was only later that I recognized my weight loss and headaches were signs. This is why I have always been a health advocate. We really need to know our bodies so that we can know when something is not right. We also need to fight to be heard with our doctors and not listen to the age requirements for certain diseases. Too many young women are dying of diseases that if they were caught earlier might have saved their lives.

  40. Patricia says:

    Sonnetta, Sending you many positive thoughts for your journey. That’s such an important point about the expectation of who a disease will hit. Those are based on statistics and there are always going to be some who don’t match the statistical norm. Don’t let a doctor dismiss what’s your experiencing based on it being statistically unlikely! Fight on, Sonnetta!

  41. Pamela Johnson says:

    Hi Pat, Thank you for the complete update. I’m relieved to hear that you are home and your preliminary reports are looking good. Hugs to you and Kali!

  42. Patricia says:

    I feel those wonderful hugs, Pamela! 🙂

  43. Gretchen H says:

    First off, I’m so glad to hear that you were persistent and caught it early, and the prognosis is good.

    Now for the dreadful warning to others:
    Find a good doctor, most important thing. My mom had unexplained bleeding that her gyn blew off as menopause. She had it for 10 years AFTER menopause was over. Finally in frustration she got a hysterectomy and that’s when the gyn finally found a 6 lb tumor in her uterus. Then the dr had the nerve to tell her they got it all and there was no need for further treatment, just check ups. So she had no chemo, no radiation. Not even an oncologist visit. 12 months visit she was declared clear. She complained about back pain and difficulty breathing. GP treated her for arthritis and asthma. Turned out it was endometrial cancer that had metastasized to her lymph nodes. By the time they figured it out, she was too sick to endure the chemo (which she tried but it was devastating) and she was gone in 3 months. I miss my mom every. single. day. This was 13 years ago. Ladies, DO NOT LET THE DRS BLOW YOU OFF if you know something is wrong!

  44. Patricia says:

    Yes, yes, YES! Listen to your intuition! And find a doctor who truly listens to you. I’m so very sorry for your loss, Gretchen. And for the pain your mother endured.

  45. Ginny wexler says:

    Good for you. Now go weigh your purse. You will be surprised how heavy it really is. I had that reality check last spring, but that is inconvenient, nothing more. Take care, heal well.

  46. Patricia says:

    LOL, Ginny. For me, it’s not the purse, it’s the computer bag — ay-yi-yi.

  47. Lynn Reynolds says:

    Hi Patricia – I can truly relate, having spent a summer vacation dealing with the same thing almost seven years ago.

    It’s true that endometrial and uterine cancer can be hard to spot since the symptoms are so vague – in my case, I had never felt healthier but simply was having very long, very heavy periods. My gynecologist had a bad feeling about that and insisted I have a D&C (which was followed by a hysterectomy after suspicious results in the D&C).

    I would say the TRUE biggest problem with gynecological cancers is the absolute unwillingness of women to talk about any issues going on “down there.” Twenty or thirty years ago, my impression is that was the attitude about breasts. Now women are fine with talking about breasts, doing breast exams, having breast surgery and sharing all this info with one another. I SO wish they would become just as comfortable talking about ALL gynecological issues to one another. When a good friend had a hysterectomy soon after me, I tried to talk with her about whether we were both experiencing the same after-effects and she just flat out refused to discuss the subject in any way.

    Whether it’s cancer, menopause, pelvic floor disorder or something else, I really hope that in the next twenty years, women will get as comfortable talking about gynecological health issues as they are in discussing breast health. Thanks for helping that process by writing this post!

  48. Patricia says:

    Thank heavens for the gynecologist, Lynn! And that you followed through, too. I do think that reluctance is easing — and that’s a good thing! We can be such great resources for each other — as you have been here. Thank you so much.

  49. Jean White says:

    Pat, Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Our bodies tell us so much about our health and we need to listen. My sister had colon cancer at 38 and didn’t let the doctor dismiss her concerns so 25 years later she is still here to boss me around. One of my best friends had a mammogram in June, her breast didn’t feel right, insisted on an MRI in September (which showed 4 cancerous tumors) and had a double mastectomy in October.
    I’m so glad your cancer was caught early and taken care of appropriately. You are blessed to have a compassionate and efficient doctor. I believe that sharing your story will give others the courage to get the medical
    help they need. We need to be proactive!
    My prayers are with you for a speedy recover and thank you for sharing!

  50. Patricia says:

    Those are great experiences you shared, Jean! So glad your sister is still here to boss you around 😉 I very much hope people will recall these stories and if they have any symptoms, they will ACT.

  51. Irene Peterson says:

    I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2005, thanks to my smart, wonderful Nurse Practitioner and all those same tests. They are not fun, but boy are they necessary. Endometrial cancer is often overlooked because it isn’t one of the biggies that get all the attention. And usually, a hysterectomy is all you need to get rid of it. That hurts, you are ripped open and cut, but the cancer is gone.
    Two years later, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma. I do not know if the one was directly related or caused by the other, but you have to stay on top of these little pinches and pains and lumps and bumps. If something is bothering you, please, PLEASE see your doctor. Get checked. Ask questions. Your life is worth so much! Don’t throw it away because you think you know best.

  52. Patricia says:

    What a great message, Irene — thank you SO much for sharing. Many good thoughts for you!

  53. Carol says:

    After five years of being clear from endometrial cancer it came back so make sure you continue regular checkups. After chemo and radiation I still had a problem. I am now on medication which seems to be helping. Cancer is a terrible disease. Thank goodness, with help from people who know and can help, I am able to deal with this problem and continue to believe that someday it will be cured.

  54. Patricia says:

    Oh, Carol, I’m so sorry you’re needing to go through this again. I’m sending many good thoughts that this medication continues to help. It’s clear you’re strong and I know that will help you tremendously. And that you for sharing that vital reminder for all.

  55. Jane Jensen says:

    Happy to hear you’re doing well Pat and thanks for the excellent recommendations. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2016!
    Jane

  56. Patricia says:

    Thank you, Jane! Always glad to recommend you!

  57. Jane Jensen says:

    Happy everything is working out. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2016
    Jane

  58. Linda Jennings says:

    I understand so completely. I went for annual mammogram in September (have annually because of extensive family history) and they found “suspicious” growth although very small. Had biopsy and it was cancer, but rare and supposedly slow growing non-spreading. My prognosis isn’t as encouraging as yours. Surgery was Dec 3rd and we are doing more test to see if I need chemo before radiation and meds for 5 years since for some reason it did spread and was fast growing. Like you I was calm and accepting, just do what we have to and move on to the next step. I have plans and things to do. Wishing you the best.

  59. Patricia says:

    Linda, I think your attitude and approach are great assets in this battle. It’s good it was found and now you have tools to fight it. There have been such great strides in breast cancer. I am sending you great thoughts and wishes to beat this fast and for good. Keep me posted if you don’t mind.

  60. Margaret Transue says:

    I am so very glad to hear you are doing so much better. As an avid reader, you health is more important to me than the fact your next book maybe a few months or even a year late. Just take care of your self.

  61. Patricia says:

    Margaret, your comment warms my heart — thank you so very much!

  62. Margaret Transue says:

    I am so very glad to hear you are doing so much better. As an avid reader, your health is more important to me than the fact your next book maybe a few months or even a year late. Just take care of your self.

  63. Dianne Rodney says:

    My story exactly except it was more than three years ago for me. Was diagnosed as stage 1 cancer. Went through the same steps as you and have been cancer free. Had my last six month check up. Am onto 2 year checks now! Good luck to you on your journey. You will be fine.

  64. Patricia says:

    That’s great that you’ve passed the two-a-years, Dianne! Two more checks to go . I wish you the very best each day.

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