BY AMBER SMITH
As the world marked the turn of the millennium on Dec. 31, 1999, Dorette Thompson and her husband, David, were in New Jersey for a black-tie celebration. Thompson, in her late 50s, awoke that morning to unusual spotting.
That was the beginning of her ongoing endometrial cancer journey.
She had abnormal tissue removed from her uterus. In the spring of 2000 she underwent a hysterectomy and therapy that she believed left her cancer free.
Four years later an imaging scan showed a tiny uterine tumor, and Thompson sought treatment in Rochester. It was 2005 when her leg began to swell, revealing an enlarged lymph node in her pelvis. She was referred to radiation oncologist Seung Shin Hahn, MD, at Upstate.
“He was the first person who was honest with me,” says Thompson, who lives in the village of McGraw in Cortland County. Hahn told her the tumor was large and inoperable. It was pressing on her intestines and the main artery leading to her leg, and the physician was surprised that Thompson’s leg wasn’t hurting because of it.
Until then, Thompson believed the tumor to be tiny. She had not read her medical records, which clearly listed the tumor’s size and location. That’s the lesson she now shares with anyone facing cancer: Read all of your medical records.
Hahn’s plan was to weaken the tumor with a special type of radiation therapy then available at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Thompson went there. “I came back home, and a month or two later, they checked – and the tumor had disappeared.”
In 2012, she learned her endometrial cancer had spread. Again, she was treated with radiation, this time at Upstate. She takes a hormone pill daily to reduce the risk of a new cancer developing.
“I feel fine,” insists Thompson, now 76. “I owe my life to Dr. Hahn.” She says the last 16 years have been positive. She accepted her cancer diagnosis, found a doctor and a plan of action she fully believed in, and always has something she is looking forward to do or accomplish.
About endometrial cancer
— The average age of women diagnosed is 60; it is uncommon among pre-menopausal women.
— Pregnancy, use of birth control pills and the use of an intrauterine device are linked to a lower risk.
— Overweight women are twice as likely to develop endometrial cancer, compared with women who maintain a healthy weight, because fat tissue can increase a woman’s estrogen level, which increases risk.
— It is up to four times more common in women with diabetes.
— Women who have had breast or ovarian cancer may have an increased risk, as may women who have undergone pelvic radiation therapy.
— Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom and should be evaluated right away.
— In addition to a physical exam, tests for endometrial cancer may include ultrasound, a biopsy of the uterine lining and blood tests, with additional tests if the doctor suspects the cancer is advanced.
— Surgery is the main treatment, but in some cases radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and/or chemotherapy may be recommended.
Source: American Cancer Society
This article appears in the spring 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.