Stories of Cancer
Giving Voice to Real Experiences

More Surprises – Long Term Side Effects

Excerpt from ‘Nothing Personal, disturbing undercurrents in cancer care‘, by Mitzi Blennerhassett – Radcliffe Publishing, winner Medical Journalists’ Association Open Book Award (Author’s Note). A patient narrative with a difference, it includes discussion sections after each event looking at what needed to change, with references to better/evidence-based practice.

“How on earth did your GP manage to take a smear? I can’t even see your cervix.”

It’s 8 years since the anal cancer diagnosis, but only a year since my second major challenge: unrelated breast cancer. The drug ‘Tamoxifen’ has caused vaginal bleeding and a different consultant is examining me prior to checking my uterus for endometrial cancer (a side effect of the drug) under general anaesthetic.

This is how I learn the ‘nasty surprises’ have not quite finished with me and radiation damage has caused vaginal adhesions. (I’d never heard of ‘adhesions’.) So parts of the body really can stick together – parts I had not even realised could be at risk’…. Adhesions are not the only surprise. Twelve years after treatment, and just as the twenty-first century begins to hold promise, truncal (abdominal) lymphoedema (a break-down of the body’s lymphatic system) makes its presence felt, along with a diagnosis of ‘venous insufficiency’ in my legs. Both my GP and oncologist readily admit they know little about lymphoedema which I discover is a common, if unacknowledged problem.


I have seen the garden
I have the key
I can swing the heavy door and know the mystery

There’s a magic waiting
Hidden from your eyes
A squandering of daydreams; a harvesting of sighs

If you want the secret
Walk in the dew
Step among the frosted fields and see life anew…’