Yaaaayyy! It’s been 1 whole year since my operation, and I’m not dead! I have my next check-up and MRI scan in a few days time, so hopefully I’m not speaking too soon in congratulating myself on being sans cancer for 365 days. Oh well. I’m going to celebrate, and continue to milk the cancer cow. Squeeze, squeeze. Thank you to everyone who has read my blog so far – it’s had over 10,000 views, lord knows how. Oh wait, my Mum and Big Claire pressing ‘refresh’, that’s how.
My next post will probably be something like ‘An extensive list and humorous descriptions of all the amazing things that have happened to me and wonderful people I have met since getting cancer’, but to mark the 1st birthday, anniversary, whatever you want to call it, of Karen Without Cancer (and a cervix), here are my ‘Pre and Post-Surgery Top Tips: Some General, Some Vagina-Specific’. Wow, definitely just found the title of my first book. Please read and enjoy. If you don’t enjoy, then I’m sorry and don’t hate me. I’ve had cancer.
1. Consume a lot of alcohol, cheese and chocolate before the operation. Not immediately before obviously, but in the days/weeks leading up to ‘hospital time’ I would definitely recommend necking the wine and stuffing your face with brie, Reese’s peanut butter cups etc. as for a little while after my operation alcohol and dairy-based products made me feel sick. This was devastating.
2. Have a decent grooming session before going into hospital. The type of operation I had made my stomach very swollen and the muscles were shot to shit, so I couldn’t bend down to shave my legs or mow the lawn, and general maintenance was a bit lower than I would have liked. I thought this might happen, so I took precautions and before the tumour removal I got my hair done, plucked my eyebrows, cut my toenails and shaved off everything from my neck down.
3. When in a restaurant, talk loudly about having cancer, maybe cry a bit and the bill will (occasionally) be less than it should be.
4. Take some form of cotton wool/squishy stuff to the hospital. The oxygen tubes will probably dig into your cheeks, but you won’t be able to tell as you’ll (most likely) be attached to a morphine drip. So, use your own cotton wool, or ask for a donation from the hospital and fashion these fabulous facial accessories:
5. Be prepared to see a lot of your own blood. I bled (from my vagina) for weeks after my operation, and whilst in hospital the nurses were very needle happy, taking countless blood samples (from my arm).
6. Take a break from exercise. It’s important to let your body heal properly – I haven’t exercised in at least a year. I’d say give it another six months or so and I’ll go for a brisk walk. Maybe.
7. Arrange for your check-ups to be in the middle of the working day. What manager won’t let you go for a cancer check-up at 2pm?
8. Buy a bottle of chamomile lotion. Or smile nicely at the doctor. You will need it if this happens to you:
9. Plan your funeral songs – just in case. I know that’s a bit morbid, but it would have really annoyed me if I’d died and the wrong music was played at my funeral. My entrance song is the Lion King’s ‘Circle of Life’ and I’ll go out (via the oven) to ‘Proud Mary’ by Tina Turner.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for their seat on public transport.
11. Take all the pain relief you are offered. It will hurt. A lot. Do you want to stay on the morphine a little longer? Yes, you do. Do you want to take painkillers more frequently? Absolutely. Don’t worry, hospital staff won’t let you overdose.
12. The first post-operation poo is HORRIBLE. As some of you will remember from a previous post, I have a fabulous digestive system – a bowel movement after every meal. Not the case after my operation. It took 3 days for anything to happen and when it did, I thought I was giving birth out of my arse. Poor Fishy was visiting at the time and she got through almost an entire episode of Masterchef before I emerged from the toilet.
13. If someone says ‘can I get you a coffee?’ or ‘do you want a glass of wine?’ the answer is always ‘yes’.
14. Sleep with the lights on. Before my operation, and for a while afterwards I had difficulty getting to sleep at night, as I was worrying a lot. As I said in my last post ‘things are always worse at night’, so I tricked my body into thinking it was daytime by sleeping with the lights and my clothes on. Maybe not the best advice, but it helped me. Just remember to take out your contact lenses.
15. Don’t insert anything for 1 month. I was told to not put anything up my vagina for at least 1 month after surgery. This includes – but is not limited to – tampons and penises. Your body needs a few weeks to heal without disruption.
16. Sex will probably feel different. After a radical trachelectomy, some people have a loss of or decrease in sex drive, experience pain when having sex or just don’t enjoy it as much as they used to – this can be due to the physical and/or mental stress of having your cervix hacked up. I am very lucky in that none of the above have happened to me, but I know that they are common issues for lots of women in my situation. For me, sex doesn’t feel worse, just a bit different.
17. Don’t bite when people say weird shit. I was told by someone that I had cancer because I’m a performer, and am used to twisting the truth, or lying, which then causes a tumour to grow. There are some weird people out there, who think and say very weird things. Just ignore them, or laugh in their face.
18. When your doctor asks if you feel ready to go back to work, say ‘not yet’.
19. Enjoy the awkward moments. For example, when I went back to work after my two month vaycay, this conversation happened:
Colleague: Hi Karen, did you have a good holiday?
Me: I didn’t go on holiday, I had an operation.
Colleague: Oh, what was it? Did you have your tonsils out or something?
Me: No, no. My cervix.
It was a wonderfully uncomfortable, and I loved it.
20. Get ready to be everyone’s medical guidebook. People will ask your advice on medical stuff – whether they have never met you, haven’t spoken to you in 7 years, or are your best friend – depending on your area of expertise. So, I get general cancer queries and specific gynaecology questions. I like to feel intelligent, so wear my glasses when responding.
21. Get a Netflix account.
22. Stay busy after each check-up. I have a check-up every 12 weeks, and then have to wait 10 working days (ish) for the results. I always get into a bit of a state whilst waiting, so try and keep as busy as possible. If anyone says ‘Oooh, sorry, not sure if I’ve got time’, then simply reply ‘I’m waiting to find out if I have cancer again.’ and they will soon change their answer.
23. Leave your dignity at the hospital entrance. It’s not the right time to be worrying about countless people seeing you naked, getting washed by a stranger, or flustered about bodily fluids.
24. You will feel VERY tired for weeks on end. This is a blessing when you want to leave something early, or not turn up at all. If anyone questions what the matter is, just whisper ‘it’s the cancer’.
25. Don’t worry that you’re not coping properly. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with what’s going on. Do whatever you want, just please look after yourself.
Thank you so much for reading, I’ll leave you with a photo of me looking like a Princess. Kind of.