As women of midlife, we have grown to have a keen sense of intuition. This intuition has not only driven us throughout our lives, but has allowed us to act upon and make decisions regarding situations we are not fully comprehensive of, per say, a sneaky cheating ex you just knew was doing you dirty! We gain knowledge and act upon this intuition more and more as we grow older, which is beneficial getting into the menopause and susceptible cancerous stages of our midlives.
Earlier this past year, 63-year-old Molly took a bathroom break on the drive home from a family vacation and noticed a small red speckle on her toilet paper. This postmenopausal woman hadn’t had a menstrual cycle in five years and immediately had her guard up. Of course excuses such as a bladder infection came immediately to mind, but she knew deep down there was something just not quite right—and an hour later she found another drop.
She immediately Facebook phone-messaged a mutual friend and me, asking if she should be scared, we both replied, “Molly you need to see your gynecologist.”
While vaginal bleeding can be caused by a lot of things, especially in perimenopause and menopause (vaginal dryness, anyone?), it’s also a common sign of uterine cancer, which Molly was about to find out she had. More than 40,000 women are diagnosed with uterine cancer each year, according to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer.
Molly called her gynecologist right away and scheduled an appointment for the next day. A Pap was performed, a small polyp was found and removed for screening. He also scheduled Molly for an immediate ultrasound (another patient had just canceled—lucky her!). A week later, she received the results: “You do have cancer,” her gynecologist said. “You are going to have to have a hysterectomy.”
“I was not prepared. It was as if this entire thing happened to somebody else,” Molly said. “The experience of being healthy one day and having cancer the next is so bizarre. It felt almost as if it were a bad dream.” Molly learned she had an estrogen-related cancer, which meant a surplus of unopposed estrogen in her body helped to coax along the cancer’s growth.
In a flash the hysterectomy was over and Molly spent one night in the hospital. While her most memorable thought was an overly obnoxious lady (probably pre-menopause, hehe) down the hall from her, she was grateful to have the surgery over with. Like most women who think they are Wonder Woman, she wanted to start new and jump right back on her feet. Luckily, her daughter brought her back to reality and helped her set realistic goals, while the growing sisterhood of cancer and hysterectomy survivors provided her solace.
The fact is, ladies, one third of all American women will have to have their uterus removed and half a million in the U.S. will have hysterectomies each year, according to Lauren Streicher, MD, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and author of The Essential Guide to Hysterectomy: Advice from a Gynecologist on Your Choices Before, During, and After Surgery. The Cancer Support Community offers phone, online, and in-person support for women battling cancer. This New Year, established social circles, religious groups, and health communities can prove instrumental in getting women back on their 2014 feet—both physically and emotionally—following cancer. Cancer is scary, and hysterectomies are no walk in the park, but the intuition to detect and act early is worth it by living and appreciating to see another day. Life is a gift ladies, a gift we deserve to have!
Now, post-recovery, Molly is confident her early caught cancer—or as she calls it, her “bad dream”—is behind her this New Year. Of course, she still has follow-up appointments with her gynecologist (every three months, then every six, then every year for five years), but as her gynecologist told her, “You have a greater chance of falling out of bed in the hospital and breaking your leg than you do of having this cancer be a life-threatening event.” While there is not currently any 2014 routine screening tests for uterine cancer, abnormal vaginal bleeding typically spurs early, life-saving detection in women like Molly, according to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer. Here are some helpful tips from Dr. Streicher on how to decrease the risk of uterine cancer in the New Year.
The key to our midlife success, ladies, is to use our powerful intuition we have that is filled with our womanly knowledge to be proactive with our lives. The power of the midlife sisterhood knows no bounds—as long as we never stop talking! So let’s stop shrugging off our health this New Year and use our intuition and regular check-ups to give our bodies the voice we know deep-down they deserve!
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!