So what happened, exactly?

Many people (all of them women; understandable, seeing as men don’t have an immediate concern about uterine cancer) have asked me how I came to be diagnosed. The answer is: with thanks to a vigilant gynecologist.

The timeline goes something like this. On January 20 2009 (I know this because it was Inauguration Day), I began feeling a kind of twinge-y pressure in my abdomen, particularly on the right-hand side. Enough that I noticed it, but nothing really worse than mild pre-menstrual cramping. Except that a) it wasn’t the right time of the month for that, and b) it continued on and off for several days.

So I went in to see my GP, Dr. Lee Kagan, who determined that it wasn’t emanating from an organ (i.e. not the appendix, liver, spleen), and was most likely GYN-related. I accordingly toddled off on February 2 to my gynecologist, Dr. Tina Koopersmith, who did an ultrasound. While she found nothing on my right-hand side, she did find that the left ovary was trying to release three eggs at once (I’m such an overachiever), which she noted was not unusual “for a woman of your age” (ouch). She said the discomfort from that was being referred, which was why I was feeling it on the right side and not the left. She noted nothing else unusual and asked me to return in two months/cycles to make sure everything had resolved.

I went back on March 12. The twinge-y pressure was gone and the left ovary was fine, but she commented that my uterine lining looked a bit thick in the back, which she wasn’t thrilled about, so she asked me to come back in three cycles so she could look at it again. On May 22 I went back; she still didn’t like the way it looked (and now detected what she thought might be a polyp), so she declared that a D&C was in order. She did actually make a joking apology that sometimes when you go in looking for one thing, you find another, and that was exactly what had happened in this case. Thank goodness.

With my son Ben’s high school graduation just three weeks away, and many end-of-year school events taking place in the meantime, we decided to wait until afterwards for the D&C. It happened on June 25 (I awoke in recovery to find the nurses chattering excitedly about Michael Jackson being dead, and wondered exactly how strong the anesthesia had been, until they turned on the TV to show me I wasn’t hallucinating). Dr. K went to Tom and Ben while I was in recovery to say that everything had gone smoothly, she’d removed several polyps but wasn’t alarmed and that the pathology, just to be sure, would be in the following week.

On July 2 I went in for my post-op, where she told me that to her shock (not to say mine), the pathology had shown endometrial cancer. Part of her surprise was that I hadn’t presented with the typical symptoms of it, which apparently include abnormal menstrual bleeding and cycles of less than 21 days. She said that a hysterectomy would happen next, once I’d had a CT scan to determine the extent of the cancer, and recommended me to Dr. Rich Friedman, a surgical oncologist who specializes in the gynecological stuff. (As of this writing, btw, I have yet to meet him, but that should happen in the next several days.)

As I was in for the checkup by myself (who was expecting a cancer diagnosis?), I asked as many questions as occurred to me in my rather shocked state and ran downstairs to Lee Kagan’s office. Mostly because I didn’t want to be alone at that moment, and also to get a reality check on Dr. Friedman. He was very reassuring, said he would have recommended me to Dr. Friedman himself, and implored me not to Google anything – that if I had any questions, I was to ask him, or Dr. K., or Dr. F. I promised I would not Google – at least not until I have the CT scan results – and have kept that promise.

While I was expecting a bit of a time delay in getting the CT scan approved, all credit to my insurance company for snapping right to it. Within four hours of my receiving my diagnosis, they had approved the scan, which was scheduled for the very next morning. So on the morning of July 3, literally less than 24 hours since I’d gotten the news, I had my CT scan.

It’s now Sunday, July 5. Dr. Friedman’s office has said he’ll review my files (and, presumably, the scan results) on Monday, at which point they will call me to schedule a consult with him. I hope that will happen early this week. Dr. Kagan encouraged me to get the CT scan results from Dr. Friedman in person, as whether they’re good or not-so-good, he will be able to place them in context for me in a way that would be difficult over the phone.

The scan will determine what stage of cancer I’m in. Stage 1 would apparently mean that the cancer is confined to my uterus, in which case the hysterectomy itself should be the only treatment I need. If the cancer has already spread beyond the uterine wall, it will be hysterectomy plus chemo and/or radiation, presumably.

Seeing as I’ve not Googled, I really know nothing much more, just at this time, than what I’ve written here. I’ve grateful to have received loads of supportive messages from people with friends or relatives who have survived endometrial cancer and gone on to live for many decades after, so my own plan is to be one of them.

Arlene’s career has spanned film, television and web production, artist development, content creation, and senior management for Fortune 500 companies and startups alike. She is currently the head of the Las Vegas offices of advertising agencies 87AM and Allied Integrated Marketing, which represent a number of prestigious resort, entertainment and hospitality clients both on the Strip and in Downtown and suburban Las Vegas

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