My story begins with a girl’s weekend at our lake cabin in September 2005. Six of us had grown up together in a small town and had started getting together for a weekend once a year.
Earlier that spring, our friend Pat had lost her battle with ovarian cancer, so we were a smaller group that fall. On the Sunday before we left to go home, I was joking with the girls about what my gynecologist was going to say the next morning when I went in for my annual exam.
I was sure he would mention my weight, blood pressure and cholesterol after a weekend of junk food and over-indulgence. Ironically, my doctor said nothing about those things but was concerned that he had felt something on my right ovary that he should not be feeling on a 58-year-old woman.
Even with a very thorough pelvic exam, he was unsure of how to write it up in my file without knowing more. He ordered a transvaginal ultrasound and a CA125 blood test. The ultrasound did show something and my CA-125 was at 611; well over the normal of 30 or less.
At that point, he explained that it could be something as serious as ovarian cancer and he wanted to me to see a gynecologic oncologist. My doctor planned to see the gynecologic oncologist that evening and would personally ask him to look at my file and consider helping with the surgery. The gynecologic oncologist agreed to see me and I was scheduled for surgery on October 11, 2005 – my 59th birthday. Not what I had expected on my birthday, but I was just glad to be scheduled for surgery.
I had a complete hysterectomy and de-bulking surgery done by a surgeon who knew exactly what he was looking for – removing all visible signs of cancer. I was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. This was very scary for my family knowing that my aunt (not a blood relative) died of ovarian cancer several years ago and my friend Pat had just lost her battle with the very same disease only months before.
Fortunately, I had recently met a woman named Cheryl while painting at the Art Center. She had been diagnosed with early stage ovarian cancer and was now healthy. One of the three women I knew with the disease was still alive and healthy – something to hang on to.
I had a great support system in my husband, three grown children, friends, our church and MOCA. However, even when doctors do everything right, and so far they absolutely had done a wonderful job of giving me the very best chances of survival, sometimes things go wrong. When my surgery was complete, the surgeon came out to talk to my family who had been there all morning anxiously awaiting news of my condition and asked to have them paged.
We will never know if it was a technical failure or human error, but the pager never went off and my family did not get to talk to the surgeon, who went on to his next surgery when no one responded to the page.
My family couldn’t figure out why they weren’t being paged, so they asked at the desk and found out that I was out of recovery and had been taken to a room. My husband realized it was cancer when the elevator door opened and he saw the sign indicating he was on the cancer floor; the most traumatic moment of his life!
Eventually, he did get an opportunity to speak with my surgeon later that day and my whole family grilled him the next morning in my room with a million questions; which he took the time to answer in detail.
The last day in the hospital, moments before I was released, I discovered a deep vein thrombosis affecting my left leg. They aren’t all that rare in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer following a complete hysterectomy. We had taken precautionary steps to prevent it, but I still had a problem, which complicated my recovery and increased my time in the hospital.
My gynecologic-oncologist recommended an aggressive approach to chemotherapy, suggesting eight treatments of taxol and carboplatin three weeks apart over six months rather than the more commonly prescribed six treatments.
I got through chemo, tolerating it well and when I finished my last treatment we had a party waiting for me when I returned home to celebrate. However, at my appointment, my Dr. recommended 12 more treatments of taxol given once a month for a year to improve my chances of no reoccurrence or more time before a reoccurrence.
It was hard to hear because I was so glad to be finished and move on. I really didn’t want to face more chemo. He also recommended that my husband and I discuss it, think about a second opinion and was upfront about saying that others would not all agree with his recommendation. I liked my doctor, had confidence in him and trusted his opinion. I decided to try the 12 treatments; I could always quit if it was too difficult. I completed the 12 treatments.
I have now begun my 14th year as a survivor with no recurrence and my CA125 remains low. I still go in regularly to be checked for any sign of cancer. I am grateful that I always had annual exams and didn’t wait for obvious symptoms. I did not make a doctor appointment because I identified symptoms, but because it was time for my annual exam.
I was fortunate to have had very thorough, knowledgeable and compassionate doctors who did everything right to increase my chances of survival. Although there are subtle symptoms that may point to ovarian cancer, they also are symptoms that can easily be mistaken for something else or simply the aging process, as in my case.
I was middle-aged, past menopause, all my friends took more trips to the bathroom, had gained some weight around the middle and I had been diagnosed with diverticulitis two years prior, so I attributed any intestinal irregularities to that. As far as I was concerned, I had no symptoms or complaints when I went in for my annual exam.
I am one of the fortunate survivors who had doctors who made all the right choices. My gynecologist was thorough and made exactly the right decisions in ordering the ultrasound and blood test, referring me to a gynecologic-oncologist to perform my surgery and not waiting a year to see if what he may have felt was actually something.
I was blessed with support from a loving family, friends, a church home and MOCA. At MOCA, I found others who could give me hope, had a common purpose and knew what I was experiencing.
I am able to contribute to the mission of MOCA in a variety of ways: sharing my story with medical students, sharing my love of parades with a MOCA float, reproducing my art onto note cards to benefit MOCA, helping out at health fairs, attending events and contributing financially. Sharing with others in the mission of MOCA has been such a positive experience. I was elected to the Board of Directors, served as Vice President and also President.
From the time of diagnosis, my husband would continue to remind me that someone beat the odds and survived every cancer we know of and if someone can beat it – why shouldn’t that someone be me? I am a person of faith and shared my journey with my faith community. The outpouring of support and the power of prayer was also very important in my healing and recovery. And it doesn’t hurt to believe in miracles!
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.