An ovarian cancer diagnosis was a shock to then 45-year-old me. I wasn’t making the time to prioritize my health and wellness then, and I’d missed signs from my body. I had no idea that a negative pap smear didn’t mean I was in the free and clear for overall gynecological health issues. I was a striver – nothing could get in the way of my work, my many plans and obligations, and I didn’t have the time to slow down.

Until, of course, I did have the time.

My telltale sign was bloat. I thought I was just gaining weight and I was constantly chastising myself – even though the weight gain was all in the area between my waist and my rib cage. I finally went to see a digestive doctor, assuming I had a stomach issue. After the CAT-scan, she made the appointment with a gynie-onc for me. My surgeon thought I presented somewhere between late stage 2 and early stage 3.

My major debulking surgery was scheduled for just two and a half weeks later. In that two weeks, I had to have ascites drained twice. It’s a malignant fluid that fills your peritoneum cavity in response to the cancer that’s growing. The first time they took 2 liters of fluid. Less than a week later, they took 4 liters of fluid. That stood out to me as a sign that my situation was very serious.

Pathology ultimately classified my tumors as stage 2, and I clung to that news; although now the first piece of advice I give other women is “trust the diagnosis, not the prognosis.” After an initial healing period, I started chemo, going weekly to what they call “dose dense” treatments. They pound you with the chemo weekly instead of the 1 week on/2 weeks off cycle. I was told this was a good route for someone young and healthy. My body tolerated the treatments, but my emotional and mental health were hit hard. I spent a lot of that spring feeling depressed and scared – but also trying to keep up a strong front for all the people who were supporting me.

Enter MOCA. I did not realize how much I needed to be around other people who had been through this same experience. Cancer treatment is difficult, but for me, the hardest thing was life after chemo. I felt there was always a little cloud of doubt and fear of recurrence shadowing me. Through MOCA, I met people who were dealing with this disease at every stage – and they were doing it with resilience, grace and greater confidence.

Now, I go six months between CA125 blood draws. I go days (maybe even weeks) without feeling my “survivor” identity front and center. The word that I resonate with right now is thriver. I’m grateful for this period in my life where there is no evidence of disease.

I think women who live with cancer should put “NED” at the end of their names the way others show off their MD or PhD. Cancer is absolutely a hands-on immersive course in all the things – eating well, doing the emotional work to not suppress feelings, getting back into (or for some of us making first contact with!) our bodies, managing anxiety and fear and being vulnerable. The problem with this framing is, of course, what does it mean when we experience recurrence? Have we failed or advanced to the next level of consciousness? I don’t know. But I feel, with the help of MOCA, I am more prepared to address whatever might come my way next.

The information enclosed in Survivor Stories should not be considered a substitute for the opinion of a qualified health care provider. MOCA does not recommend or guarantee any product mentioned. Please use this information to assist you in obtaining further information and in making your own health care decisions.

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