On June 3rd, 2003, I was diagnosed with Stage 1c ovarian cancer at the age of 31. Prior to being diagnosed, my husband and I had decided that we were ready to start a family, and after about nine months of trying to conceive without success, I decided to contact my family physician. She was not concerned, but because I was trying to get pregnant, she decided to schedule me for an exam to ensure there was nothing wrong.
While she was examining me, she detected an enlargement in the area of my right ovary. She was still not too concerned; however, she decided to order a transvaginal ultrasound to get a closer look. At this point, I really had no other symptoms to speak of other than having difficulty becoming pregnant.
The ultrasound was completed approximately two weeks following my initial visit with the doctor. After a few days of waiting, I finally decided to call my doctor to find out the results. Unfortunately, she was not in the office and wouldn’t be until the following Monday. I asked the nurse to read me the results, which stated that I had three large cysts (each approximately the size of an orange), and one had “complex hemorrhagic properties.” I had no idea what that meant, and neither did the nurse. She tried to comfort me and told me not to worry, but I assumed the worst until I finally heard from my doctor the next week. Thankfully, she, too, felt that the cysts were benign.
In order to address the fertility issues, I was referred to see an OB/GYN. My doctor warned me that laparoscopic surgery may be recommended to remove the cysts, so I was prepared for that. After visiting with the OB/GYN, he decided to take the conservative approach by having me track my temperatures in order to ensure that we were timing things right while in the process of trying to conceive. After two months, I had a repeat ultrasound in May which showed no change, and I still wasn’t pregnant. We decided to go ahead with laparoscopic surgery to remove the cysts.
It was Tuesday morning when I went into the hospital, with my husband and mom at my side. We were all anxious to get the surgery over with and I had planned to recover in my own bed that very evening.
About 30 minutes into the surgery, the doctor came into the waiting room and gave my mom and husband the most shocking and devastating news…I had ovarian cancer and I would need a hysterectomy.
And instead of trying to remove the tumors himself, the surgeon immediately closed me up and contacted a gynecologic oncologist to consult on my case. My family and I met with him the next day. Based on the initial pathology reports, it was still unclear as to how aggressive the cancer was, and how far it may have spread. So instead of having a second surgery right away, the gyn-oncologist decided to allow me to recover, get additional testing, and have surgery the following Friday.
Over the next week and a half, I was very focused on recovering and preparing for my second surgery. I underwent blood tests and CT scans to determine whether or not the cancer had spread to any other organs. At that time, my CA-125 was only 23. Thankfully, the tests showed no obvious metastases, and the abnormalities appeared to be localized to my right ovary. With this information, we were all optimistic that the cancer was caught early, and I would only have to have my right ovary removed, which would mean that my fertility would be preserved.
My second surgery was scheduled for Friday, June 13th. Historically, this has always been a good day for me…I am not one to be that superstitious! And although it may not appear so on the surface, it was actually the day that changed my life for the better!
As I prepared to go into surgery, I was so grateful that I had my entire family, including my husband, parents, and in-laws, there to support me.
About half-way through the surgery, the GYN/ONC exited the operating room to update my family on the progress and gave them more bad news.
The cancer in my right ovary had actually spread to the left, and he also discovered that I had endometrial cancer in my uterus. Unless I was willing to go through extensive chemotherapy and risk the potential of recurring and possibly dying from the disease, the doctor explained that the only way to save my life and ensure the best possible outcome was to remove both my ovaries, fallopian tubes, and my uterus.
Upon learning this, my husband told the doctor: “Cut it out.” Although this was a very difficult decision for my husband to make, we had discussed this possibility prior to surgery, so he knew it was the right one.
The surgery lasted about five-and-a-half hours and consisted of debulking (removing) all visible tumor tissue, taking 26 biopsies from my diaphragm to my pelvis, and removing my entire reproductive system. I was now a cancer survivor and had a greater than 95 percent chance of beating this disease!
After about two months of significant post-operative complications and re-hospitalizations, I was finally able to begin chemotherapy on August 28, 2003. It was a scary time for me, but I was grateful that there were medications available to help kill every cancer cell that may be lingering in my body.
Exactly 13 days after my first chemotherapy session, I began to lose my hair. This was probably the worst side-effect from chemo – but once my husband helped me shave my hair off, it was actually a relief. And he decided to shave his head too so that we could be “bald beauties” together! In addition to hair loss, I experienced loss of appetite and mild nausea which was only temporary after each chemo treatment.
Towards the end, I was very fatigued for a few days after each session. However, I continued to work full time and felt relatively well, thanks to a number of medications now available which help minimize the side effects.
After six rounds of chemotherapy which I completed on December 4, 2003, I am grateful to say that I have been cancer-free ever since. The checkups every three months are still nerve-wracking, but I am always comforted to know that I am being followed very closely, and my risk of recurrence is minimal.
Throughout this experience, there were so many things in my life that helped me to remain strong and positive. Support from friends, family, and co-workers, and a husband who never left my side were the most significant.
I am honored and grateful to be connected with MOCA. I served as a founding member of the Young Survivor Network and served on the Board of Directors. Although my family moved to North Carolina several years ago, we still stay connected with MOCA and support MOCA’s work. The connections I have made through this group have helped me so much to deal with the losses we have experienced and continue on the path of healing.
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.