At 46, I truly believed I was doing well for myself. Although pudgy, I am athletic, having played three sports in college, so I consider exercise and good eating part of keeping yourself well. Along with working on eating better and trying to lose weight, I was keeping up with dental and medical check-ups, getting annual pap smears and mammograms and periodic colonoscopies, I really felt like I was well.
During my annual exam with my GYN in February of 2005, my doctor and I discussed my family history of medical problems, namely cancers, and heart diseases. I told her that I was skipping some periods, had gas, and my back hurt, but I really didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. I’m a woman and we just put up with gas, bloating, and pain every month when we have our periods!
She recommended that I participate in the Ovarian Cancer Screening Program through the James Graham Brown Cancer Center/the University of Louisville. I had both ovarian and breast cancer on my mom’s side (mom’s sister died from OVCA, other had breast cancer) and she believed that the screening program’s annual ultrasounds and blood tests would help. In addition to my lovely genes from my mom, my father is also a two-time colon cancer survivor.
What a great gene pool!
My back ached a lot from an accident at home (my doggie tripped me), but I went ahead and scheduled the screening after my monthly cycle. After the TVUS (transvaginal ultrasound), I was told that if anything was found that I’d be called.
The next morning, I got that call.
“Something” was found on my left ovary and I was asked to have another ultrasound after I had another cycle. Three weeks later, I had the second ultrasound and the next morning received that call back again.
“It” was still there…this time they called it a “mass”. I asked if I should be concerned and was told no.
As April arrived, I had my annual exam with my Internist. She ran the usual blood tests, EKG, and cholesterol check. I asked her what she thought about the ultrasound reports and she looked very serious and said that she would call the GYN for me to have a total hysterectomy. She also said to not to mess around, because sometimes this stuff goes bad. WOW! Thinking to myself that a total hysterectomy was overkill, I listened to her comments.
Why do women put up with doctors taking out our good organs, rendering us sterile?
After more discussion, I decided to call my GYN’s office and see what I should do. I talked with a nurse who called me back after a conversation with my doctor, and I was scheduled for another ultrasound and CA-125. In the meantime, I had my third ultrasound at the Brown Cancer Center and “it”, the mass – now being called a tumor – was still there; same size, same place.
By mid-April, my back was killing me so I made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. He ordered an MRI, but I wanted to save money so I asked for physical therapy first to see if the pain could be relieved. Should have done the MRI…
Early May in Louisville, Kentucky brings lots of fun with all the Derby activities. I enjoyed myself, but I truly was a little pre-occupied with this tumor thing that I had. My body was talking to me. Each time I talked or thought about my pet tumor, I got a cold shudder. I went to the Kentucky Oaks and the following week I had my fourth ultrasound and more blood tests. The ultrasound technician told me my uterine lining was too thick, but I was more concerned to know if she could see the tumor. She did and showed me the mass on the screen. Five days later, I had my meeting with my GYN to discuss the results and get her recommendation. She told me that I needed a D&C to clean out my uterine lining and that laparoscopic surgery would remove the cyst on the left ovary. She was looking at removing the cyst only – only small chance to remove the ovary or do a hysterectomy, but if necessary, she would. She also told me she’d be in there to take a good look around and if anything seemed wrong, she’d take care of it, all the way up to a total hysterectomy.
July 5, I had the procedures. She did take the left ovary and tube, cleaned out my uterus, and ablated endometriosis in my pelvis. She told my family everything looked good. Two days later, while my doctor was on vacation, the pathology report came in and an office clerk called me to tell me it wasn’t good – I had both ovarian and uterine cancers – both primary cancers. They had already made me an appointment with a GYN ONC for the following week.
My head was spinning, I became physically sickened…I had cancer.
I went to the GYN oncologist with my partner and parents. I had researched ovarian and uterine cancers online to look at statistics, surgery, and treatments so I basically knew what I was getting into. I elected to get a second opinion and ended up choosing to have my care handled by Dr. William Helm through the Brown Cancer Center. Surgery plus IV and IP chemo was the recommendation. The Brown Cancer Center participated in the Intraperitoneal Infusion trial and I’d get more aggressive chemo, which pleased me.
July 18 was my staging surgery and I couldn’t have gotten better news. No spread to other organs, cancer was confined to my pelvis. I had two ports placed in August and later that month I began the first of my six Taxol and Cisplatin IV/IP chemo treatments.
My sister-in-law planned a hat party for me with my friends and family – what a great time. Not only did I get lots of hats and scarves, but those who came got to see me losing my hair, but committed to living, doing things, and having fun. The support that I had from my partner, sisters, brothers, parents, in-laws, friends, and co-workers was tremendous. One of my sisters sent out a call to her friends for prayers and support and I was sent Get Well cards from around the world, afghans to keep me warm, quilts, hats, blankets, Angels for Hope angels…you name it – I got it. My other sister would bring me lunch during my chemo and her “miracle meatloaf” got me through many sessions pain-free. My brother and sister would come to have lunch with me when I was in the hospital. Friends would bring me lunch when I was too sick to go to work or my blood counts would be too low. I don’t want to have to go through chemo again, but I know that all of my “community” would be there for me again if I needed them.
Today, I am 49 and still NED (no evidence of disease) as they say. I eat mostly organic food, exercise, but can’t lose weight???, laugh a lot, root on those CARDS, and do all I can to get the word out to other women about ovarian cancer.
Listen to your body, pay attention to subtle clues, and persist with your doctors. Don’t stop until YOU are satisfied. I didn’t and I’m here today!