After Whipping Obesity, I’m Now Fighting Cancer
June 12th was the last time I posted an update on my weight. A few days after that, I received some of the worst news I’ve ever had in my life, and stepping on the scale was the farthest thing from my mind. While running errands, I got a call from our fertility doctor and was told the reason for my constant spotting. I have cancer.
I remember pulling off the side of the road, but not much after that. The second I heard “cancer” my mind sort of went on autopilot. I vaguely remember hearing something about “survivability” and “cure rate.” The only thing I could think of was getting back home – fast.
Once home, I made it to my front door before the doctor called me back, letting me know the oncologist he told me about would see me next week. I don’t even remember him talking about an oncologist, but I said fine, sure, and we hung up.
I spent the rest of the day crying my eyes out. The news was a double whammy. Not only were our hopes of having a child via IVF dashed, but now I’m googling “survival rates” to see what my chances of living were. That weekend (yep, I got the news Friday morning) I spent most of my time vacillating between stewing in my emotions (sadness, fear, anger) and Googlepalooza.
And I was angry beyond measure — directed towards my body and all those past indulgences and half measures to get healthy.
After 4 hard years eating right, exercising and changing my whole life around, my body decides to betray me in the worst possible way. Of course I’d start hating on myself that it took me nearly 30 years to figure out how to get healthy.
As for Googlepalooza, I’ll just say this:
If you are diagnosed with a disease, stay far away from any device with an internet connection. “The Google” has no bedside manner. Regardless of how positive the information, “The Google” will present it in such a way as to make you think you are going to die immediately. “The Google” is the rabbit hole to Hell, and it sucks the fight out of you. Don’t let it! Remember, “The Google,” like cancer, has no soul and is evil. Stay away from it if you’re sick or if you think you’re sick. Instead, talk to your doctor.
Thankfully, my husband knows me well. While my emotions were raging on the inside, I’m making busy with the jokes, telling my husband “I’m fine” while grabbing my iPad for the 20th time in 10 minutes. I’ve never been one to let on how troubled, hurt, upset, whatever I am. Bottling up my emotions and stewing is something I’ve perfected over 40 some years. Cancer might kill me (to my thinking), but it wasn’t going to take away my sullen flagellation. Sensing this, my husband intervened each time I got too quiet or obsessed with what I’d found on “The Google.” Then he goaded me to do something else: a long bike ride in the woods, walking the dogs, going out for drinks, and pep talks whenever he felt I was receptive … lots of pep talks.
It took some time, but he was able to change my attitude from fear and self-loathing to steely determination.
My motto, unstated until now: If I can quip obesity I sure the hell can kick cancer’s ass too.
I have uterine cancer, or endometrial cancer, specifically. The tumor starts in the lining of the uterus. Of the types of cancer a woman can get in the reproductive area, this is the “best” one since the cure rates tend to be high. It’s also the most common. It’s more common than ovarian and cervix cancers combined. Most women don’t know about it because of the high cure rates (82%).
As both my fertility and oncologist doctors explained to me, all those years of being fat took their toll on my body. My fat cells were releasing way too much estrogen, causing my fertility problems. Over time, thanks to all that excessive estrogen, some of those cells turned “abnormal.”
Healthy cells grow, multiply, and die at a set rate. Abnormal cells grow and multiply out of control and don’t die at a predictable rate. Eventually — in my case — those abnormal cells turned cancerous.
Do I Want Door #1 Or Door #2?
I met with the oncologist two weeks ago. I was faced with two choices:
- A total hysterectomy, which would remove of my uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix. Depending on location and the size of the tumor, my pelvic lymph nodes might be removed as well. Or…
- Four months of intensive hormone therapy to shed my uterine lining over and over again to get rid of the tumor and any abnormal cells. No surgery, and I could restart IVF treatment after 6 months of follow-up.
Option 2 sounded tempting, but that meant IVF treatment would be pushed off until 2017. And there was no guarantee my body would respond to the fertility treatments. Oh, and the the cancer could simply spread and kill me.
In less than a minute after he explained the options, I picked Door #1.
A week later, I was in the OR.
Recuperating From Surgery
Last week, I had my surgery and went home the next day. The pain? During my stay in the hospital, I opted for Tylenol rather than the percocet, and that did the trick. Other than the two percocets I took at home before bed, I haven’t had the need for pain meds.
Each day, I’ve felt better and less sore. The main battle is with constipation, but that’s finally starting to ease up. It really is amazing how much we take our abs for granted.
Then there are the shots…
Every day for two weeks my husband injects me with a blood thinner to prevent blood clots. It’s a bit annoying because I’m pretty much up and walking around, not bedridden. I’ve only napped a few times, so I doubt I’m getting any clots soon. But I’m also afraid of second guessing my doctor, so we’ve been dutifully following the program.
As for my prognosis, I’ll know more in a few days. That’s when I meet with my oncologist for my post surgery follow-up. I’ll learn the results of the pathology report on my lymph nodes and what, if any, additional treatment is needed.
I’m optimistic. While I was waking up from the anesthetic, my doctor told my husband he believed the surgery was “curative.”
In the mean time, I’m focused on recovering from the surgery. For the next 5 weeks, I can’t lift anything heavier than my cat. No exercise other than slow walks. Minimal stairs. No baths or swimming for at least 6 weeks. No driving for at least 2 weeks, and maybe more. Nothing strenuous like vacuuming, mowing the lawn, or laundry.
Glass Is Half Full
After all this mess, I’ve come to realize two major silver linings.
First: I never would have known about the tumor had my husband not convinced me to give IVF treatments a shot. Why would I think I had cancer? My PAPs were good. I’d had normal periods for nearly three years. It wasn’t until I started the estrogen injections in May that my period went wonky. So while the results are not what I hoped for, I found out about the cancer rather than just blindly going along with my life while this thing was slowly killing me. This thing, incidentally, was about 2 inches thick, and had barely grown outside of the uterus lining (which is why they had to remove my lymph nodes for testing). I may very well have died, unless some other symptom came up that merited the same test. Meanwhile, the cancer would have grown, and grown, and grown.
Second silver lining: while endometrial cancer grows slowly, I slowed it down even more by cutting out sugars. Cancer cells feed and grow by aggressively consuming glucose. But my low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet put me in ketosis, meaning my body runs off of my fat stores and not glucose. Cancer can’t grow (easily) because it can’t consume ketone bodies. Its only fuel is the natural glucose created by the liver to power the liver and blood cells (i.e., not a whole damned lot).
So without even knowing it was there, I’d started kicking cancer’s ass by going low carb.
For more information about cancer and ketogenic diets, take a look at this video.