My journey with ovarian cancer actually began with a heart attack. Just two weeks after I officially retired in April 2012, I suffered my second heart attack, which was more frightening and painful than the first one just one year prior. I mention my heart attacks because it soon becomes an issue.
Within a week after being released from the hospital, I began having bladder problems. Since I had to use a catheter while I was in the hospital, I assumed I had a bladder infection. I went to an Immediate Care Center and I was told my bladder was fine, but after feeling my abdomen, a large “mass” was discovered and they advised me to see my gynecologist.
After my gynecological exam, I was immediately referred to a Gynecological Oncologist. Hearing the word “Oncologist” really upset me since I had two sisters who lost their lives to Colon Cancer, and it is always in the back of my mind. I was given a blood test called CA125 and I had a CT Scan, which showed a mass in my abdomen that was fourteen centimeters and shaped like a football! My oncologist helped to ease my anxiety. He explained that the tumor was fluid filled like a water balloon inside another water balloon and is not typical of ovarian cancer. He was far more concerned about my heart since I was on a blood-thinner and aspirin daily. Plavix and aspirin would make it unable for me to clot and very difficult to operate. He did not want to take the chance of me “bleeding-out” on the operating table!!
During my meeting with my oncologist, my cardiologist said I could not go off of the Plavix and aspirin because of the risk of the stent collapsing so soon after the angioplasty procedure. Also, general anesthesia would be dangerous so soon after a heart attack, and surgery is stressful on the heart. He said the heart muscle needs to continue to heal, and I must wait at least six months before surgery. I started going to cardio-rehab three days per week to make my heart stronger.
Meanwhile, I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with my bladder problems of not being able to urinate, set in a chair, or drive a car. The weight of the tumor was pushing down on everything! My oncologist suggested that I have the tumor drained, but first, he wanted to see a PET Scan. The Pet-Scan looked good and does not suggest a malignancy, however, the tumor had grown. In one month, the size increased from fourteen to fifteen centimeters. Since I had to wait another six to eight weeks before surgery, I went ahead with the drainage procedure. The fluid that was drained off was just over one liter, and it was benign.
Finally, by mid-August, after meeting with my cardiologist, he gave his approval for me to have surgery. I would stop the Plavix one week before surgery, but continue to take the aspirin.
The tumor had attached itself to my uterus, so I had a complete hysterectomy. After surgery, my oncologist told my daughters that he did not see any cancer, however, when the pathology report came back it was malignant – Stage 1C Cancer. The chemotherapy treatment (Carboplaten-Tacksol) would be given through a PICC Line inserted in my right arm over the next three months.
My side effects of chemo were numerous. Anything bad that happened to me since chemo – I immediately blamed on the chemo.
First, losing my hair was not a big issue for me. Iron deficiency, Thyroid deficiency, and Vitamin D deficiency are still a part of my life but are being taken care of with medication. For me, the worse side effect was practically losing my eyesight with cataracts in both eyes that required surgery. Then, my right eye had a hole in my retina that had to be surgically corrected. Also, I have lost some dental work including a bridge and a crown.
All in all, my journey with Ovarian Cancer was a very lucky one because it could have been much worse if it had not been discovered. Today, I stay on a heart-healthy diet, mostly fruits and vegetables, and absolutely no red meat, no fats and no eggs. I walk thirty minutes at the mall almost every day. I go to my yoga class every week and attend all the health education and prevention classes that are available to me. I am gaining my strength, my energy, and my good health – thanks to my wonderful, knowledgeable and compassionate team of doctors, nurses, my family, friends, and my support groups.
I share my story with medical students each year, so they may know the face of survivorship and that every cancer story is unique and different. May you find your own path to wellness.
I know you can do it!
Lend me your hope for awhile.
A time will come when I will heal, and I will lend
my renewed hope to others.