During Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month (GCAM), we are pleased to share the story of Lynne Braden an endometrial (uterine) cancer survivor who has founded the Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Network (@GynCAN, #GynCAN). We urge you to check the sites mentioned in her story.
In early 2015, I was enjoying my second year of early retirement traveling North America as a full-time RVer and travel blogger (http://winnieviews.blogspot.
com). After my mom died of breast and lung cancer in 2013, I had quit my job, rented my house, and sold all my possessions to start living the life of my dreams while still young and healthy enough to enjoy it.
In April, 2015 while in New Mexico, I happened to watch the documentary No Evidence of Disease on PBS one night. An old classmate of mine had died of cervical cancer a few months earlier, and the film's subject matter immediately held my attention.
The film provoked my curiosity afterwards to search online for the early warning signs of Gyn cancers. Suddenly, that annoyingly regular little bit of spotting and discharge I'd been experiencing the past few months took on much greater significance-- it was a common symptom for various Gyn cancers! I called to make an appointment the very next day with a local OB/Gyn.
Within 2 weeks of watching the NED movie, I was diagnosed with Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer, and began a rapid cross-country RV trek back to my hometown of Chicago for treatment by a skillful and fabulous Gynecologic Oncologist at a full-service hospital and cancer center.
Even though I’d spent my career working in hospitals and physician practices as a healthcare software project manager, I’d never had surgery before and had never been a hospital patient. When my Gyn Onc talked me through what the Da Vinci robotically-assisted Hysterectomy/BSO surgery would entail, the tech geek in me couldn’t wait to run home that night to search out a YouTube video of the surgery! (for me at least, it actually was quite helpful to watch and greatly relieved my pre-surgery fears).
While the surgery went well, and initial pathology confirmed that the tumor was fully contained in the uterus, my Gyn Onc was concerned about the abnormal-looking lymph nodes she removed. If final pathology would show cancer spreading to the lymphatic system, my road ahead would be far more difficult and unpredictable.
Those couple of days of waiting for the final pathology report gave me a potent reminder to never underestimate the power and impulsiveness of cancer. I vowed from then on that I would never assume to have the upper hand on cancer or not take it completely seriously, no matter how “win-able” the survival stats may be. I would also make those necessary, but long-ignored, diet and exercise changes to get my body back to a “healthy fighting weight.”
To my great relief, 2 days later, the pathology on my lymph nodes came back negative. My cancer would be staged at 1A after all (instead of 3C). But due to the size of my tumor (4 cm), putting me at slightly higher risk of recurrence, my Gyn Onc recommended 3 quick sessions of internal radiation (vaginal brachytherapy) to lower my risk.
Within a few more weeks, I had completed treatment and recovered from surgery without any complications or long-term side effects. All things considered, round 1 of my cancer battle was “easy/breezy” compared to most.
A few weeks after surgery, I learned that the N.E.D. band (the 6 gynecologic oncologists who were the subjects of the No Evidence of Disease movie) would be playing a benefit concert in the IL/IA Quad Cities less than 200 miles from me. I just had to go meet them and thank them personally for, essentially, saving my life!
It was a transformational evening. Not only did I meet the band & love the music, but I also met 2 dozen other GYN cancer survivors. Many of their stories (and their much more difficult cancer struggles) touched me profoundly.
On the drive back to Chicago, I began to think of how I might turn my blogging and social media interests (and desire to improve my physical fitness), into something that might benefit gynecologic cancer awareness and raise funds for further research and education in the process.
With the help of the social media directors of the N.E.D. band, and the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, in August, 2015, GynCAN (the Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Network) was launched -- an online grassroots community of survivors, family, friends, and medical folks committed to spreading awareness using the power of each of our various social media networks.
During September’s Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, we will post daily to our various blogs and social media sites using the common hashtag of #GynCAN to pool our posts together and make some noise to raise greater awareness. If you are active online, join us!
Additionally, those who are able will walk/run 100 miles in September (3.3 miles per day) as part of the #GynCAN100 and ask our friends/followers to donate on our behalf to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer.
While the circumstances that bring us together have not been wished by any of us, we will not quietly suffer our “below the belt” cancers without a good LOUD fight, and will pray that our efforts to raise awareness will ultimately help many thousands of women avoid/survive these cancers in the years to come!
Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Network
Thank you Lynne for sharing your story. Thanks also for being a guest at our 9/9 #GynCSM chat.
Co-Founder, Co-Moderator #gyncsm