Before My Mom’s Diagnosis, I Knew Nothing About Endometrial Cancer, Here’s What I Learned2024-03-20T11:49:53-06:00

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Before My Mom’s Diagnosis, I Knew Nothing About Endometrial Cancer, Here’s What I Learned

March 20, 2024
Written By: Deanna Taylor

“It’s cancer.” These are two words no one ever wants to hear but they are also the two words that would ultimately rock my entire world. I had just returned to the United States after a year of living and working in South Korea. My mom, who was 63 at the time, complained to me about what felt like menstrual cramping and abnormal spotting. Given her post-menopausal age, I knew something was wrong. We would later learn that the culprit was endometrial cancer.

My first response was for her to schedule an appointment with her primary care doctor. I was scared, so I knew she was terrified. But she did as I asked. After several tests and a biopsy, the physician revealed the unexpected. Almost on cue, my mother burst into tears. Neither of us had heard of endometrial cancer, nor did we know anyone personally affected by it. Sure, I’d heard other Black women share their heartbreaking stories of endometriosis, but never a cancerous version. So, what was it exactly?

“Endometriosis is a non-cancerous disease that typically causes pain with periods. It is caused when the cells lining the inside of the uterus (also called the endometrium) grow outside the uterus and attach to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and abdominal cavity,” Dr. Stephanie Marshall Thompson, MD of CCRM Fertility tells ESSENCE. “Endometrial cancer, however, is when cancerous cells grow from the cells lining the inside of the uterus. Luckily, most endometrial cancers are found early, which is why education regarding symptoms and risk factors are so important.”

My mom’s doctor expressed the same sentiments, “You’ve likely caught it in its early stages, so we will be able to offer a wider range of treatment.” A sigh of relief came over us as we prepared to begin this fight—together. I had so many questions during those initial visits with the oncologist. “What caused this?” “Is it genetic, and am I now at a higher risk, too?” “Is there anything she could have done to prevent this?”

According to Dr. Thompson, “The biggest risk factor for endometrial cancer is obesity. This is because the tissue in fat cells makes estrogen, which can form abnormal cells in the uterus. Maintaining a healthy weight is the best preventative measure to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. Other risk factors include being post-menopausal, a history of irregular menstrual cycles, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a history of infertility.”

My mother was considered obese, and, of course, she was post-menopausal. She also, unfortunately, dealt with high blood pressure at times, too. As a Black woman from the South, many of her not-so-healthy habits were inherited and, for the first half of my life, passed down to me as well. I, too, was considered morbidly obese as a child, but once I reached adulthood, I made a complete lifestyle change. My goal was to, in turn, pass what I’d learned to my mother in hopes that she could make a change, too. But, like most moms, she was set in her ways.

Rather than bring any of this up, I simply held her hand through it all. During the early stages, her oncologist suggested a genetic test be performed to determine if I was potentially at risk of the disease as well. We found that she luckily did not possess the gene that would have been passed to me. Another sigh of relief for both of us.

That was until her initial surgery was performed.

It was suggested that she allow the oncologist to surgically remove any cancerous cells from her uterine lining via a robotic-like procedure. We were told it would be minimally invasive, taking only a few hours. Yet, when we hadn’t heard anything after about four hours into the procedure, my stomach began to turn.

The doctor would eventually come into the waiting room to tell us, “We’ve found that your mom’s cancer is more severe than expected. It’s already begun to spread to other areas of her body, making it a stage four cancer. This is also an indicator that she’s had cancer a lot longer than she realized.”

A panic attack immediately ensued.

Once I was able to gather myself, my maternal aunt finally revealed that my mom had been complaining to her for a while about pain and spotting, but she was too afraid to have it checked with me being so far away. (I should note I am my mother’s only child.) Hearing this, anger quickly replaced the panic.

“Why wouldn’t you force her to get checked sooner?” I simply could not understand. Yet, given my family history, I knew it was very common for Black families to shy away from uncomfortable things, especially when it came to our health. In our communities, there are times when we simply sweep things under the rug because we know nothing about them, and we think that by ignoring the issue, it will somehow go away. But that’s never the case.

“Black women are twice as likely to die from endometrial cancer than white women. This is likely secondary to access to care, lack of awareness, and the fact that Black women are more likely to have more aggressive forms of endometrial cancer,” Dr. Thompson explains. “The most common symptom seen in endometrial cancer is post-menopausal bleeding, including a watery discharge that is lighter in color. For women who have not yet gone through menopause, heavy bleeding between periods also warrants a workup.”

Despite a brave two-and-a-half-year fight—months longer than doctors predicted—my mother earned her wings in 2021. During that nearly 30-month period, she endured several rounds of chemo, a complete hysterectomy, hair loss, more medications than one could count, and more. But she never complained. I will always admire the way she looked endometrial cancer in the face and did everything she could to reverse what it was doing to her.

Now that I know so much more about this disease—and honestly, many others that affect Black women disproportionately—I’m more intentional about staying abreast of signs and symptoms and getting checked at the first sign of an issue or abnormality. And, as I openly share this story, I hope you, too, will do the same for yourself and those you love.

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