Pelvic Guru is excited to share GYN cancer recovery advice from a patient’s perspective. The words of wisdom are from a strong, wonderful woman who has gone through a comprehensive treatment plan including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to fight stage 3 endometrial cancer. She has taken a very dedicated, proactive approach to recovery and is doing well.
Pelvic radiation for cervical and endometrial cancers is difficult to get through, but there are some things that I tried to make it more manageable. I experimented with different approaches – some worked, others didn’t. I chose the path of experimentation because it added an element of fun to a rather unpleasant treatment phase. The experimentation continued after treatment when I focused on resolving the issues related to pelvic radiation.
Approach 1: I have the responsibility to do my part in my own cancer recovery. The doctors don’t always tell you what to do after treatment ends. So, I experimented with different things that I could do that could only help to accelerate my recovery. For example, I started swimming six weeks after treatment ended. Then, I engaged a fitness instructor who developed a strength training regime to build muscle and bone strength, while keeping the pelvic joints open and moving. This is really important after chemotherapy and pelvic radiation because it helps to counter the increased risk of osteoporosis. I also pro-actively started a seven-month regime in pelvic physical therapy less than a year after radiation ended to help reduce the impact of fibrosis. I have a great physical therapist, and the therapy has made a big difference.
Approach 2: I discovered my local supermarket as the best source for Replens. Replens is widely used to counter vaginal dryness caused by pelvic radiation. I was dismayed at the price and lack of availability on the shelf at the national drug store chains. Instead, I found that my local supermarket always has it in stock and at a cost $3-$4/box lower than the drug stores. Maybe this could work for you too.
Approach 3: My family physician is an ally. I formed an integrated team of specialists to help with my cancer recovery. So far, the team includes: oncologist, family physician, a specialized pelvic physical therapist, lymphedema therapist, fitness instructor and gastroenterologist. I loosely assigned different areas of my cancer recovery to each team member, hoping that I could pull it all together at the end. My family physician plays a key role on the team and is my first line of defense when I need help. She is a critical ally in my cancer recovery.
Approach 4: I set a stretch goal bigger than my current life. During cancer treatment, I created a vague vision inside of my head of something really big that I wanted to do after I finished. I couldn’t do much during treatment, so I used the time to consider different aspects of the vision and think of action steps that I would take to get there. Of course, I had to keep reworking the vision and action steps, but that was part of the fun of experimentation. This was really important because it provided a new goal to go after which was not related to cancer. I had to put myself out there in concrete actions to achieve the goal, which pulled me through the end-of-cancer treatment phase and beyond.
For example, one aspect of the vision was to return to downhill skiing seven months after finishing cancer treatment. During treatment, I used the time to explore different ski resorts via the Internet and took concrete steps by booking at ski resorts. I paid in advance, putting myself “on the hook” to be there. It was a stretch goal, indeed, which required that I start at the bottom and get my body back in shape and strong. It took a lot of work to get there, and I skied the entire 2012 season.
Approach 5: Pre-empt the effects of cancer treatment wherever you can. I’ve read many articles about cancer patients complaining that they are lost after cancer treatment. They no longer see their oncologist as often. Many patients are not provided with a follow-up plan to deal with all the issues. Still, I see it as my responsibility to be pro-active in anticipating all potential cancer treatment issues. I developed my own follow-up plan based on global medical research, and have not looked back. It takes discipline to execute the plan and to keep at it. I share my plan with my oncologist, family doctor and physical therapist, asking for other ideas to take better care of myself. So far, it’s working.
(** Pelvic Guru does not profit from the product in this article)