Hello Readers! I am sorry it has taken me so long to write another post. I was diagnosed with another cancer this past February, and now things are finally starting to get back to normal. It took months, but I am back to work and back to writing. My husband and I also bought a house, and got two kittens! So, needless to say, our life has been one challenge after the other and it’s wonderful to settle in a normal pattern.
I want to thank all of you for subscribing and/or reading my blog! It’s an honor to share my life with you and I hope that my perspective adds something truly significant (wink wink) to your life, either now or in the years to come. I also wanted to mention that as of now, I have no personalized emailing service setup for those who have subscribed, but in the future I may send out a short “hello!” with the new blog post notifications.
In Part One, I ended the story with being told I needed to see an oncologist. My cancer was in my reproductive organs, so I saw a gynecologic oncologist. Our heads were spinning with fear of the unknown and future. First of all, I had no idea what was happening in my body or the extent of the situation. I had never known anyone with ovarian cancer. I didn’t know that it was one of the 5th leading cancers that cause death in women, and that only 20% of women are diagnosed early enough to be relatively safe and make it past the 5-year survival rate. The website for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) states that,
“In women ages 35-74, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths. An estimated one woman in 75 will develop ovarian cancer during her lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be over 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed this year and that more than 14,240 women will die from ovarian cancer this year.
When one is diagnosed and treated in the earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent. Due to ovarian cancer’s non-specific symptoms and lack of early detection tests, about 20 percent of all cases are found early, meaning in stage I or II. If caught in stage III or higher, the survival rate can be as low as 28 percent. Due to the nature of the disease, each woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer has a different profile and it is impossible to provide a general prognosis.”
I was clueless as to the danger I was in. Other sources even quote early detection rates as low as 15%, and no wonder, with early warning signs being so vague! There are four persistent symptoms that are synonymous with ovarian cancer:
Bloating, Pelvic/Abdominal Pain, Trouble eating/Feeling full quickly, Frequent urge/Need to urinate
Other persistent symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
Fatigue, Upset stomach/Heartburn, Back Pain, Pain during sex, Constipation or menstrual changes
I must encourage you, to take any of these symptoms seriously if you are a woman! Symptoms that persist longer than two weeks should be evaluated by a doctor.* The first appointment with my oncologist, she looked at me and said, “Well, let’s start with what we know. You are young and you are healthy.” I thought this was so contradictory. “Of course I’m not healthy! I have frickin’ cancer!” I thought to myself. How did this happen to me? The doctor told me that it was unusual for me to have ovarian cancer because of my age and weight. I was 30 years old at the time, and at a normal weight for my height. The majority of women she diagnosed were 40 or older and overweight.
I had eaten healthy and worked out regularly for over a decade before my diagnosis. Food was almost like a religion to me: I always checked labels and constantly read about new healthy eating tips. I worked out at least 3 to 4 times a week and was very active. I thought drinking enough water and taking supplements was giving my body the extra “oomph” it needed to fight disease. I never drank, smoke, or did any drugs. I took over-the-counter medications very sparsely, usually only needing ibuprofen to get through my horrible periods. I avoided chemical cleaners and found natural alternatives. It was so much work to constantly be questioning everything I ate, drank, or put into contact with my body, but I thought it was worth all the effort if I was in control of my health. That’s the thing about life though, we usually aren’t in control, and anything can happen despite our best efforts.
Naturally, I thought about it constantly after being diagnosed and wondered if I had done anything to bring it upon myself. I wondered if I caused it by wearing perfume, using dry shampoo, or because I had relaxed my rules with food. Or maybe I caused it by living with my abuser for so long? I was convinced that the stress alone could have cultivated disease. I had all these “what ifs” hanging over my head and couldn’t shake feeling responsible. I wondered if these were the reasons that cancer had started in my body. I had been sleep-deprived for years as well. I don’t know if it’s because I had the cancer back then, or if it was stress-related, but I could never get enough sleep. I even wrote a song called, “Is There Anything Worth Dreaming For” with one lyric reading, “planning my day around going to bed.” Sleeping was the highlight of my day, because it was an escape for my weary mind, heart, and body.
Since I had no way of knowing how or why I got the cancer, it seemed to fade in the background as my husband and I did as we were told to start treatment as soon as possible. My doctor prepared us for the possibility that upon opening me up to stage the cancer that she didn’t know what they would find. I had already had surgery to remove the cyst, and I was informed that once the body was opened up that the exposed air could have caused the cancer to spread quicker. I felt like there was a ticking time bomb in my body. We were prepared for the worst-case scenario, where I could wake up without any reproductive organs. I was told that I could have swelling in my legs for the rest of my life as a result of removing my lymph nodes. The topic of children came up and we needed to make plans to preserve my fertility.
I was rushed to a reproductive endocrinologist to start the process of preserving my eggs, in the event that my ovaries needed to be removed during my upcoming surgery. The office was full of women who were kind and tender-hearted, and they treated me like I was a delicate flower. I cried many times during the process because the staff were so gentle and wonderful. While I was filling out the initial paperwork in their office, they told me about 12 year-old girls coming in for the same procedures I was about to go through because they had cancer too. It was so humbling to realize that at the worst moment of my life, there were children out there going through the same thing. Children. I still don’t even know how to process that. It’s probably why my husband and I are monthly supporters of St. Jude Children’t hospital, where no child/family pays for care. https://www.stjude.org
For almost three full weeks, my husband and I had to drive almost an hour to the hospital to see the specialist every other day. Each time I had to get a blood test and a trans-vaginal ultrasound. The whole process was stressful emotionally and physically, but the idea of saving the chance to have our own children some day was worth it. I couldn’t think about the execution of this back-up plan at the time, which I would come to find out is extraordinarily expensive. My husband had to give me 2-3 shots a day in the stomach a day to cause my body to produce eggs, and more shots later in the process which (I think?) was to keep my body from releasing them. That was torture for him and me, but it gave us hope for something new and full of joy on the other side of the mountain and it propelled us forward.
Livestrong, my fertility clinic, and Walgreens paid for my fertility preservation and medication. We were so grateful for the support that we got a picture of us holding our fertility medicine in front of the building. This was at the end of the process. We only had time for one cycle before I was scheduled for the cancer staging and prayed that we could get the most eggs fertilized with what could be the only chance to have our own biological child. We celebrated when all five of my eggs were successfully fertilized and frozen as embryos, and we continue to pay yearly for their preservation hoping someday to bring our unborn children into the world.
My surgery was scheduled for July 2nd and I was liberated from the hospital on the fourth (semi-clever pun moment). I woke up in a tremendous amount of pain and was overwhelmed with my surroundings as I came out of anesthesia. There was a large incision in the shape of a question mark from the bottom of my ribs to the top of my pubic bone. It felt like I had been gutted like a fish, essentially because I was! Those two days that I was being monitored and nursed at the hospital were horrible.
The pain meds were making me high out of my mind and was becoming more confused and aggressive. The nurses kept giving me Vicodin and something else, and I was on a liquid diet. I was terribly thirsty and had to keep using the restroom. My bed was a standard hospital bed, but since all my stomach muscles were cut it was near impossible to sit up without help, and getting back into bed was just as difficult…the first time in my life I would wish for a catheter.
My Oncologist eventually came in and gave us great news: she was able to save my uterus and my other ovary, which meant that I had a normal chance of becoming pregnant and wouldn’t go into menopause prematurely. They did biopsies for the surrounding tissues and the pathology reports came back with no presence of cancer. The original doctor (my OBGYN) who removed the cyst (remember Glumpy?) did such a great job that there was nothing cancerous left in my body. That meant that the ovarian cancer was contained within my ovarian cyst, and I was staged at 1A; high marks for a cancer patient. Some other fun things removed from my body: the omentum (fatty tissue that insulates the abdominal organs), lymph nodes in my cavity, and my left fallopian tube. Chemo and radiation weren’t necessary and that was good since my oncologist also told me that ovarian cancer doesn’t respond well to chemo.
My husband stayed with me in the hospital until I was released two days later, and July 4th we both got to go home and finally rest. It was over. Even though I had six months of healing ahead of me, I had mental closure that my body would soon experience and we could feel the dark clouds breaking up and the sun shining through. There was a weight lifted off of my husband that showed in his countenance and our parents were able to breathe again. It was almost as if we were all holding our breath and waiting for it to be over, and it was!
As a conclusion to part two, I want to say that as I’m writing this, I remember how stressful and nightmare-ish it was (not just for me but for my husband, my mother, and our family/friends); but I also see how we were surrounded by loving and caring hands. We felt like we were being held in God’s hands, and the hands of our family and friends were there physically holding ours. It is undeniable how gracious God was to help us walk each step without losing hope. We were scared, but never felt abandoned by God and deep down, we knew everything would be okay in the end. Even if I would have died, our faith that we would go to Heaven because Jesus paid the price for our sins was a tremendous comfort. Death was possible and unwanted, but not more powerful than God’s promise to take me in His arms if I drew my last breath.
Our family, our friends, and even cancer support groups like Livestrong and The American Cancer Society reached out to us. They kept in contact, brought us meals and gifts, and prayed for us. My diagnosis was a cake-walk compared to what other women go through with ovarian cancer (and other cancers) and yet we needed that support. If you take anything away from my story, I hope it is that God is able to turn evil around for your good, and that you can make a huge difference in someone’s life with small and consistent efforts. Be encouraged that although cancer sucks, and it’s scary and awful, that it doesn’t have to be this all-powerful source of destruction. The presence of hope and God’s love through His Son and other people is the real silver lining to it all.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Thank you for reading Part Two! I plan on continuing my story and sharing my recent cancer diagnosis from this February. Comments and questions are always welcome, and below are the links for the organizations mentioned in the post.
God bless and have an awesome week!
*Disclaimer: I am obviously not a doctor or an expert, just a cancer survivor. I am merely offering suggestions based on my own experience and information from sources like: http://ovarian.org/index.php and any other basic google search.