I’m celebrating my 20th year as an ovarian cancer survivor this year (2019). I was diagnosed with Epithelial Stage 3C ovarian cancer at the age of 52. Prior to my diagnosis, I’d been having intermittent lower abdominal pain for at least a year. My primary physician suggested Milanta for the pain but the pain was not constant enough to try the potential remedy. The larger frustration was my increasing girth. I’d been an avid long distance runner for many years and couldn’t understand why my waistline kept growing. It was abnormal for me. That, with the abdominal pain, should have been a signal for me that something was wrong. However, as a runner, it was easy to play the mind-over-matter game. My mind was a powerful tool in overcoming body aches and pains. Perhaps that was the beginning of my experience with ovarian cancer.
The intermittent pain was addressed again with my primary physician during my annual exam. She suggested an ultrasound the following week, but I was scheduled for jury duty. After one week of jury duty, the pain was no longer intermittent. It was sharp and continuous. My primary ordered a CT scan. I was told after the scan that there was a mass on my left ovary and ovarian cancer was suspected. Cancer? I had no family history of cancer.
I was alone when given the shocking news and I sat in disbelief trying to decide how I’d break the news to my husband and two adult children. I have a strong faith in God, and it was important for me that other like-minded people would be active in prayer for an unknown and frightening journey my family and I were about to begin. A quick phone call to a friend began the support that I knew we’d need.
I was immediately transferred from my primary physician to a gynecologic oncologist, vital for anyone with ovarian cancer. I didn’t have time to pick and choose or research the “best” doctors, but I firmly believe that I was gifted with the best fit for me. My doctor’s expertise was surgery. His wonderful care translated throughout his medical team. He and his staff made and effort to know me (and I them) beyond medical history and health issues.
Epithelial, Stage 3C ovarian cancer was confirmed that fall of 1999. After a hysterectomy and debulking, I had eight rounds of Taxol and Carboplatin. The typical side effects of the drugs were mostly minimal. However, I wasn’t prepared for the itchy and painful rash that spread over my scalp when hair loss occurred. Baldness was now the visible sign of the disease. I was counseled to have second look surgery after treatment. At the time it was scheduled, my gyn/onc had his own health issue and it was recommended that I see another doctor for a second opinion. She advised against the surgery. I felt peace with the decision.
After three years another dark cloud was looming on the horizon. I watched my CA125 ascend quickly in about 7 months. A PET scan was done with “no significant findings.” But then came the pain. This time sharp and relentless in my upper abdomen. The cancer had returned to my liver in September of 2002. It was fortunate for me that my original doctor was past his health issue and I felt comfortable being back in his care. Taxol only was the treatment plan this time.
“Life is a gift.” That’s my mantra, and I’m grateful for the added years to my life since 1999. Currently, my only constant “reminder” of ovarian cancer is the lymphedema I developed in my right leg. Long distance running is no longer an option. But I can run a little, walk a lot, swim laps, and bike. God has poured out blessings to me in countless ways – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I try to maximize each day. Part of the maximizing is culling as much negative from my life as possible, making decisions with thoughtful intention, and “giving back” through volunteer efforts with MOCA.
Molly Cade, a co-founder of MOCA, was my mentor, steering me through a path of ovarian cancer that she had been walking a few steps ahead of me. She gave me tremendous hope! It’s an honor for me to be actively involved with MOCA. As a volunteer in the Survivors Teaching Students program, telling my story gives ovarian cancer a “face” to college/university students in medical programs.
I’m so thankful to the doctors and researchers who spend their lives looking for a cure. As a survivor, I want to encourage other survivors to dig deep, find inner tools that can be the catalyst for creating new possibilities for themselves despite the disease. Being a resource for other survivors by offering help and hope has added great joy to my life.
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