My cancer journey began November 2004, with a recurrence in 2014 and a recurrence in 2018.
Cancer is a fighting word, especially ovarian cancer, that no one wants to hear. So how do we deal with the fear – the uncertainty of life itself, as well as the anticipated surgeries and chemotherapy we will encounter?
- First and foremost, is my trust and faith in the power of God’s unconditional grace and healing power. When my cancer recurred in 2015 after 10 years, I was devastated that I would need more extensive surgery and 18 weeks of more chemo. But I was comforted and strengthened by my faith.
- A competent and caring medical staff. I also appreciated the expertise of chemo nurses who cared for me during many weeks of chemo treatments.
- Knowledge is power and accepting that cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence, as evidenced by support from MOCA staff and the strength and resolve of other survivors.
- I am grateful to my husband who has been my devoted and patient caregiver through numerous surgeries and chemotherapies.
- Positive attitude realizing cancer is the ultimate wake-up call to living life to the fullest and treasuring and finding love and purpose in each day as if it might be our last.
And so the journey began.
In October 2004, I went to my family physician with a little heartburn and an urgency to urinate for a routine pap smear. Thankfully, my doctor performed a pelvic and rectovaginal exam and discovered an enlarged ovary about the size of an orange. Next, an ob-gyn conducted an ultrasound revealing the presence of what he suspected to be ovarian cancer. Because I was so distraught be agreed to perform a hysterectomy the next day, even though he advised I should be seen by a gynecologic oncologist. [MOCA NOTE: All women who suspect ovarian cancer to have surgery by a gynecologic oncologist, not an obstetrician-gynecologist.] I was diagnosed with Stage 1C epithelial ovarian cancer.
I next went to Mayo Clinic for numerous tests, scans and x-rays. Because I had so recently had surgery, three rounds of paclitaxel and carboplatin chemotherapy were administered every three weeks. Each treatment cause nausea, constipation, and extreme lower leg joint pain and hair loss.
My surgeon was concerned that I had initially had only a hysterectomy and no CA-125 taken at the time of diagnosis. I underwent a 6-hour exploratory surgery with multiple staging biopsies removing 56 lymph nodes and the omentum with all specimens negative for cancer. Surgery was difficult but recovery was worse. After four weeks, three more rounds of chemo resumed. I had a complete response and remission in July 2005.
My 2nd recurrence was detected in the fall of 2014. As you can imagine, I was devastated that after so many years, my cancer suddenly came back. I was thankful that I had continued to go to follow-up exams even though I was not experiencing any symptoms, only an elevated CA-125. A PET scan revealed cancer that was attached to my small bowel but thankfully my surgeon was able to resection the bowel successfully without needing a colostomy.
The debulking surgery diagnosis was metastatic high-grade adenocarcinoma. This time recovery from surgery was not as difficult. Six cycles of chemotherapy were administered over 18 weeks. Paclitaxel and carboplatin one week and then for two weeks, only paclitaxel.
There was caution I could have a negative reaction to the carbo but thankfully the only side effect I had was hair loss. I had a complete response and remission in November 2015.
My 3rd recurrence began in January 2018. I am saddened to have been diagnosed with BRCA2, as it puts my family at risk for also getting ovarian cancer. Thankfully, one daughter has elected to have preventative surgery. I went to the doctor for a routine check-up as I again had no symptoms, only an elevated CA-125.
This time my cancer was inoperable. Instead of undergoing the usual chemotherapy, I was prescribed an oral therapy – olaparib (brand name lynparza) which began in June 2018 and which I continue to take to this day.
Initially, I had weekly blood tests to be sure my blood counts remained within the correct range. I have had no side effects, not even hair loss. The 3-month follow-up PET scans indicated the cancer was shrinking and now, as of June 2019, I have no evidence of the disease.
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