Cervical Cancer

Caryl Pienaar – No tears, no anger, no pity

July 31, 2023 Word for Word Media 0Comment

 Caryl Pienaar shares her journey of cervical cancer, and recently uterine cancer for which she is still undergoing active treatment.

You can listen to this article below, or by using your favourite podcast player at pod.link/oncologybuddies

Caryl Pienaar (59) lives in Radiokop, Gauteng. 

Cervical cancer

In 2016 after a few years of being menopausal, I started spotting and visited my gynae. He performed a hysteroscopy (procedure that visualises the inside of uterus), the results showed nothing too concerning. A month later I experienced more spotting, so I went back. I figured that at 53, I definitely wasn’t going to start a family and asked him to do a full hysterectomy. Two days after surgery, he told me I was so right to have asked for a hysterectomy as lab results showed that I had Stage 1 cervical cancer. I was sent for six-monthly CT scans to ensure there were no nasty surprises. In 2018, after severe back pain I was sent for an MRI; nodes floating all over my abdomen were reported. I was scheduled for open surgery; the surgeon surprisingly found nothing.

Carrying on with life

I lived a normal life, going for regular scans. In early 2020, my oncologist said one more scan should suffice, and I should be free of the Big C. Unfortunately, the scan never happened due to COVID.

In March 2021, my back started playing up and my stomach muscle felt strained. I took anti-inflammatories and pain killers. After five days, my back was better, but my stomach muscle wasn’t. It was uncomfortable sitting down and standing up. I also experienced pain whilst coughing, sneezing and laughing (and I love to laugh). Despite COVID, my oncologist did a physical examination and sent me for a CT scan. The results showed what looked like a blood mass in my pelvic region; I was sent for a biopsy. When I was phoned and asked to come in, I knew that it wasn’t good news. This was the scariest part: the fear of the unknown. The next three days I filled my mind with meaningless but pleasing thoughts, but those days felt like an eternity.

Stage 4 endometrial cancer

My fears were confirmed; I had Stage 4 endometrial cancer, metastasised to my chest and abdomen. My options were: let the cancer run its course or have chemotherapy. That was a no brainer; of course, chemotherapy. 

My first thought was, it is what it is; I was relieved that I knew what it was and now it was time to do something about it. No tears, no anger, no pity. Just, let’s get the treatment rolling. I was taken on by a new, and especially caring, oncologist. The biggest hurdle was making sure I had the financial benefit from my health insurance plan as treatment wouldn’t come cheap. I had weekly chemotherapy for seven months. My tumour shrunk significantly, and I went on a maintenance plan and as the months passed, the CT scan results have been improving. I now receive treatment every six weeks and my cancer blood markers are pretty stable. 

Side effects

My side effects included the loss of all bodily hair, blood clots in my nose, and chemo rash on my arms. My taste buds and my sense of smell were affected. Though, my worst enemy was fatigue. On a positive note, I was fortunate enough not to suffer from nausea or weight loss. I was disappointed at not losing weight because I could have done with shedding a couple of kilos. 

The oestrogen-blocker tablets unfortunately caused an early onset of arthritis and debilitating pain in my wrists and hands. I remedied my hair loss by shaving my head. For the rash, I was given Palmolive cream and cortisone which were mixed together. The blood clots stuck around for a long time, but I was gentle when blowing my nose. The oestrogen-blocker tablets were stopped and replaced with bevacizumab intravenous drips. So, that’s where we are now. 

Lessons learnt

Nothing in life is guaranteed. I’m grateful for the care I receive from the nurse angels. The support from family and friends is phenomenal. In my darkest days, my loved ones had my back. I’ve also rekindled my spiritual relationship with God and know that prayer is powerful. Courage, quite simply, is facing life’s challenges head on. Strength comes from within when you don’t have a choice. Always remain positive because this gives you more power than you realise and, most importantly, keep smiling. Remember you have the ability to make this journey a meaningful one.

Laurelle Williams

MEET THE EDITOR – Laurelle Williams

Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. [email protected]

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