Living with womb cancer
A diagnosis of cancer is a challenge for most people. How cancer affects your daily life depends on the stage of your cancer and the treatments used.
There are many ways to get help coping with cancer. Not all of them work for everybody, but one or more should prove helpful:
- keep talking to your friends and family because they can be a powerful support system
- communicate with others in the same situation
- learn about your condition
- set reasonable goals
- take time out for yourself
Women with womb cancer usually have a hysterectomy. This can be a major operation, and recovery may take from six to 12 weeks. During this time you will have to avoid lifting things (for example, children and heavy shopping bags) and doing heavy housework. You won't be able to drive for between three and eight weeks after the operation.
Most women need four to 12 weeks off work after a hysterectomy. The recovery time will depend on the type of surgery you have, whether or not any problems develop and what type of work you will return to.
Some of the treatments for endometrial cancer, particularly radiotherapy, can make you very tired. You may need to take a break from some of your normal activities for a while. Don't be afraid to ask for practical help from family and friends if you need it.
After your course of treatment has finished, you'll probably be invited back for regular check-ups. At the check-up, your doctor will examine you (this is likely to include an internal examination) and possibly carry out blood tests or scans to see how your cancer is responding to treatment.
Relationships and sex
Relationships with friends and family
Knowing how to talk to your friends and family about your cancer can be difficult, and they may find it hard to talk to you as well. People deal with serious problems in different ways.
It's hard to predict how a diagnosis of cancer will affect you. Being open and honest about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help may put them at ease. But don't feel shy about telling people that you want some time to yourself, if that's what you need.
Your sex life
Womb cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life. This can happen in several ways:
- Early menopause: if you haven't already had the menopause, removing the ovaries means that you'll go through an early menopause. Symptoms can include vaginal dryness and loss of sexual desire.
- Changes to your vagina: radiotherapy for endometrial cancer can make your vagina narrower and less flexible. Sometimes the vagina gets so narrow that having sex becomes difficult. To stop this happening, you should be offered a set of vaginal dilators. These are plastic cones that you put into your vagina to stretch it. You can also stretch your vagina by having sex, or by using your fingers or a vibrator.
- Not wanting to have sex: it's common for women to lose interest in sex after treatment for womb cancer. Your treatment may leave you feeling very tired. You may feel shocked, confused or depressed about being diagnosed with cancer. You may be grieving the loss of your fertility.
It's understandable that you may not feel like having sex while having to cope with all this. Try to share your feelings with your partner. If you feel that you have problems with sex that aren't getting better with time, you may want to speak to a counsellor or a sex therapist.
Talk to others
Being diagnosed with cancer can be hard, both for patients and their families. You'll need to deal with the emotional and practical difficulties.
With womb cancer, you have to cope physically with recovering from a hysterectomy as well as with the possible emotional impact of losing your womb. Younger women may have to face the fact that they won't be able to have children and all the grief and anger that may cause.
Often, it can help to discuss your feelings and other difficulties with a trained counsellor or therapist. You can ask for this kind of help at any stage of your illness. There are various ways that you can find help and support:
- Your hospital doctor, specialist nurse or GP can refer you to a counsellor.
- If you're struggling with feelings of depression, talk to your GP. A course of antidepressant drugs may be helpful, or your GP can arrange for you to get help from a counsellor or psychotherapist.
- It may be helpful to talk to someone who's had the same experience as you. Many organisations have telephone helplines and forums that may be useful to you. If you wish, they can put you in touch with other people who've been through cancer treatment.
Money and financial support
If you have to reduce or stop work because of your cancer, you may find it hard to cope financially. If you have cancer or you are caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to financial support.
- If you have a job but can't work because of your illness, you're entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer.
- If you don't have a job and can't work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance.
- If you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to Carer's Allowance.
- You may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or you have a low household income.
Find out early on what help is available to you. You can ask to speak to the social worker at your hospital, who can give you the information you need.
People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate giving free prescriptions for all medication, including medicine for unrelated conditions.
The certificate is valid for five years, after which you can apply for it to be renewed. You can apply for a certificate by speaking to your GP or cancer specialist.
Dealing with dying
If you're told that nothing more can be done to treat your womb cancer, your care will focus on controlling your symptoms and helping you to be as comfortable as possible. This is called palliative care. Palliative care also includes psychological, social and spiritual support for you and your family or carers.
Last revised: 21 November 2012
Next review: 21 November 2014