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My Journey Through Cancer
By Nancy McBride
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10
This bible verse has been my anthem this year. It was the one verse I memorized and repeated to myself any time I was afraid. Because when you were diagnosed with stage 3 uterine cancer at the young age of 38 and faced with cancer treatments you would rather not do, fear and discouragement could be very present and real. I didn't want to walk down this path, but God made it very clear that this was the path he wanted me on. During this time, I kept a journal of my doctor visits, thoughts, symptoms, and struggles so that I could tell others how to pray for me and my husband, Shane. Not only that, but I can look back now and see how God was working in the midst of chaos and suffering, gently guiding and leading me. He never left my side. I hope these journal entries and reflections will help demystify cancer and be an encouragement to anyone undergoing a challenging season of life. Cancer is a different experience for everyone, and I understand that many who are diagnosed with cancer do not live to tell about it. Those who survive cancer deal with irreversible change, heavy loss, and uncertainty, and I can testify that it is a daily struggle to overcome. But I remind myself of what God has done and what my purpose here on earth is for, and ask God for the strength and courage to carry out His work. I invite you to read on and see what God has done in my life.
April 18, 2019
I'll start from the beginning. Throughout 2018, Shane and I had been trying for pregnancy. I had also been experiencing abnormal spotting in between periods - something that was new to me. Honestly, I wasn't overly concerned - I thought my body was trying to readjust after being on birth control for a few years. After several visits with my OBGYN, we found I had an abnormal Pap smear indicating I had precancerous cells on my cervix. My doctor suggested doing a LEEP procedure to remove the abnormal tissue on the cervix. While I was under anesthesia, she would also do a hysteroscopy and take a sample of my uterine lining. The procedure itself went well - the precancerous cells were completely removed, but the pathology from my endometrial tissue came back positive for complex hyperplasia with atypia. Basically, there were precancerous cells in the uterine lining that was at a very high risk of becoming cancer. My doctor said this was very unusual, given that I don't fit the risk factors for developing endometrial cancer. She said that if I were older and done having kids, she would strongly suggest a hysterectomy. But with us desiring to have kids, she suggested taking progesterone, either in the form of a pill or an intrauterine device.
There have been studies that show the regression of precancerous cells with progesterone therapy. I agreed to have an IUD inserted in hopes that this would turn things around and allow us to have a normal pregnancy. This all happened right before Christmas 2018.
At the beginning of 2019, I met with my oncologist, who suggested getting a second opinion on my endometrial tissue sample. This second reading came back as stage 1A endometrial cancer. Again, I was told a hysterectomy was the safest route. But, the doctor agreed that we could continue conservative treatment for a short period, and do another biopsy in three months. At that time, I started high dose oral progesterone (along with the IUD) to see if that would regress the cancer cells. He suggested also doing an MRI to check for any abnormalities, which came back positive for a mass that appeared to be invading the muscle tissue of the uterus. In the middle to late March, I had both my second MRI and biopsy done - and it was confirmed that the mass was cancer, and the endometrial tissue was still cancerous. The progesterone therapy had done nothing but made me super hungry all the time, and a little cranky and sensitive at times. Luckily I only gained five pounds at the most.
During these 2-3 months, we also met with a fertility specialist to learn about our options to have our own children. It seemed like IVF was the way to go if I could have a normal pregnancy, and surrogacy was the only option if I had to have a hysterectomy. We chose not to freeze our embryos because we needed first to be sure that I could carry a child. If I couldn't carry a child, then we were not going to pursue surrogacy. Shane and I simply do not feel called to have our own child through another woman.
That brings us to the last few weeks. After learning that the cancer was still present, we made the decision to move forward with a hysterectomy. My oncologist recommended keeping my ovaries because the MRI did not show any indication that the cancer was anywhere else besides my uterine cavity. I was so relieved to hear that because I really didn't want to experience surgical menopause. There is a risk in keeping the ovaries - mainly that they would still produce estrogen, which is what feeds this cancer.
But, given the circumstances, my oncologist felt it would be reasonable to keep the ovaries and remove them in a few years when I get closer to menopause.
God truly works miracles in His timing. We thought we couldn't get in for surgery until late April, but I was surprised to find out that April 6 was available. We were so glad I could get in so soon for surgery, but oh my, what a scramble it was to try to get everything in order beforehand! Thankfully my work was so accommodating, and my parents were able to make time in their schedule to come to help out with making meals as I recovered. (To be continued...)
Many people have asked me if I struggled with my diagnosis during this initial period. To be honest, I didn't. I knew there was something wrong with me, and all I wanted was for God to heal me. And when God made it clear that He intended to heal me with a hysterectomy, I accepted it. I didn't have time to grieve my losses. This tumor was growing inside of me, and we needed to get it out. I had to trust that God's plan was better and greater than anything I could have imagined. Next month, I will share the results of the hysterectomy and how they changed my life over the next five months.