I’m a fairly avid bicyclist and, in the winter/early spring of 2015, I was training in preparation for riding my fourth RABRAI (a week-long bicycle ride across the state of Iowa). I had developed a cough that I just couldn’t seem to shake. So, in January I made an appointment to see a doctor. Unfortunately, my primary care physician had recently left her practice so I saw a new doctor. As I was otherwise physically fit and wasn’t experiencing any other symptoms, I was prescribed an antibiotic and some steroids to reduce inflammation. This treatment helped initially but in March, the cough returned and I began experiencing shortness of breath. In hindsight, I was experiencing all of the classic symptoms of ovarian cancer but did not attribute the bloating, fatigue and frequent urination to cancer. I just thought I was getting old!
As I was still searching for a new primary care physician, I decided to make an appointment with a different doctor to once again try to figure out what was going on with the cough. This time I was sent for a chest x-ray. I could tell by the look on her face that the results alarmed her and I was sent directly to the local ER. My right lung wasn’t visible on the x-ray due to the amount of fluid in my chest. I was sent for a CT in the emergency room and was shocked when the doctor came in with the results; “It appears that you have ovarian cancer”. My first thought – “You have GOT to be kidding me.” Followed closely by – “Am I going to die?” I barely heard the doctor continue with, “This isn’t the death sentence it used to be. Treatment has improved over the last couple of years.” My CA-125 was over 4000.
I was admitted to the hospital and met with an oncologist the next morning. She explained that I would need surgery and it would need to be performed by a gynecologic oncologist. I actually feel very fortunate that my local hospital did not have one on staff! I was released from the hospital later that day and had the opportunity to go home and think about who and where I would like to have this procedure.
I’m just going to admit it. I’m a researcher and I love Google. This is where you go when you have questions right? By the time I heard, “Don’t spend time on Google”, it was too late. Now my mind was spinning and it felt like my world was coming apart. Thankfully, I have a wonderful family and supportive friends that assisted me in making the decision that was right for me.
Thankfully my surgery went well although the staging surprised me. (Stage 4a due to the fluid in my chest testing positive for cancer cells.) Dense dose chemotherapy was recommended after surgery. I did 18 weeks of chemo (carboplatin and taxol) completing treatment on Aug. 28, 2015. I try not to dwell too much on this rather grueling six months. I just kept looking forward although there were difficult days. I remember telling myself. “You might be dying, but NOT today!” The desire to live each day to the fullest was, and is, a great motivator for me.
I was fortunate enough to come through treatment, reach NED and be accepted into a two-year phase 1 vaccine trial designed to prevent a recurrence. Recurrence of this disease is always in the back of my mind so the daily battle is now more mental than physical. I will be completing the trial soon and remain hopeful that it will provide a new treatment option for women. Thankfully I feel great and hope to ride RAGBRAI again soon!
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