In 2011 I felt a lump in the vaginal region while showering. I did not hesitate to make an appointment for investigation. The swab results indicated that I needed to see a gynaecologist for further testing. Soon after, I underwent surgery to remove the lump. They found that it was cancer, also in the surrounding tissues.
I was sent to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne for treatment. I got to stay in the Peter Mac Apartments in Ivanhoe while undergoing treatment. There is a Red Cross service that transports patients from the apartments to the Centre. I was given a month of external radiation, then two weeks of radical brachytherapy [internal radiation] followed by three more days of external radiation. The radiation did run me down and I did suffer from extreme diarrhoea. However, that didn’t stop me from getting out and about whenever I could.
At my six month appointment I was given the all-clear. I still follow-up with regular checks.
Receiving a gynaecological cancer diagnosis does not have to send women into a panic. There is a process that exists to help us through it. I never had second thoughts about seeking immediate treatment for the cancer and following the treatment plan arranged by my medical team.
I do strongly believe that being aware of our bodies and the potential cancers and diseases that may affect us allows us to notice when things are not right. I had previously heard of vaginal cancer, and I am acutely aware of changes in my body. When I did get the diagnosis, it didn’t come as a complete shock.
The vagina is an area many women my age don’t like to discuss. It’s also an area women don’t want to investigate to check that things are okay. Women really need to overcome these attitudes for the benefit of their health.
Having charities around like the Australian Gynaecological Cancer Foundation will help women realise that their gynaecological health and well-being is critical.