GETTING BACK TO ME
I was missing a lot of work. I was having some stomach issuesâ¦diarrhea two to three times a week. In addition, my fatigue level was at an all time high for which I blamed to lack of sleep. The pain I was experiencing from my monthly periods was steadily becoming unbearable which of course, I blamed on my age. I assumed that menstruation became worse as we age. Then, my stomach began to bloat. I had just begun an exercise and better eating regime so could not understand the sudden weight gain. I began to experience difficulty breathing and wondered how I could be so out of shape. I couldn’t walk from my car to the front door of my office building without breathing heavy, had to rest while climbing one flight of stairs, and needed to sit nearly every time I stood up. Even morning showers were becoming strenuous. I was having problems standing beneath the hot water without becoming faint. On top of all that, I developed a urinary tract infection. Aha! This is why I haven’t been feeling well! I missed so much work in such a short time that it was time to see a doctor.
Prior to all of this, I would often search the ovarian cancer websites just to make sure I didn’t have the symptoms. My mother passed from Ovarian Cancer 9 years before, so I wanted to be informed. I thought I was safe. I wasnât meeting the profile and the symptoms were not mine, is how I used to view myself. Even as a child, I had stomach issues..ânervous stomachâ, I was convinced. The fatigue was a sign of age, although I was only 46; and menstruation worsens as we age. I had all the answers. I overlooked the symptoms and convinced myself that I was fine.
There I sat, nervously as the doctor asked me a barrage of questions. My partner mentioned my motherâs cancer to which the doctor immediately replied, âThatâs an old womanâs disease, youâre too youngâ. Whewâ¦she felt the same as I did and she was a doctor! After a quick blood draw, she concluded that I needed a blood transfusion, a pelvic sonogram and instructed me not to participate in anything too strenuous until then. In addition, my hemoglobin count was so low; I was susceptible to a heart attack. Panic turned into fear which turned into tearsâ¦lots of tears. Heart attack? Blood transfusion? I was only 46. Shocked and speechless, I went home.
Six hours later, I found myself in the emergency room; my breathing completely labored; my skin practically transparent. Either a slow night in the ER or I was really fascinating. I was examined by every doctor within pager distance. It was concluded that every test ordered by the urgent care doctor would be given; but first, pelvic exams; many pelvic exams. After one particular exam, I was informed by the OB/GYN that my uterus was definitely inflamed and a sonogram would provide more information and I was immediately wheeled down to radiology. If the radiologistâs eyes could speak, they would have been screaming, “CANCER”. Still, I did not want to admit what deep down inside I knew. In the middle of my transfusion, a soft spoken doctor entered the room and handed me his business card. Staring at his card, I completely overlooked the word âOncologyâ under his name. He informed me that I could be treated in that facility by a regular oncologist or travel 45 minutes to the city of Irvine and see an OB/GYN Oncologist..a specialist.
The next day, a nurse from the âspecialist’s office confirmed an appointment. For days later, I heard my oncologist say through a cacophony of dead silence, “Ovarian Cancer cannot be successful treated unless there is surgery AND chemo”. Wait…I have an oncologist? I have Ovarian Cancerâ¦the same cancer which claimed my motherâs life? Stunned and scared, I decided to follow doctorâs recommendations. Three days later, I had a hysterectomy; one week and a half after surgery, I began chemo. My oncologist reassured me, âwe can treat this”, he would say.
Chemo, although an intrusion, was really not that bad. I was infused once every three weeks and my down time was 5-7 days for each infusion. The body aches were horrible, thank goodness for Vicodin. I adjusted to bland foods, never seeing the sun, fatigue, insomnia, always wearing long sleeves out, and the weight gain. Movies love to depict a gaunt, sunken cheeked lifeless person as one stricken with cancer. I never lost a pound but rather gained 30. Hair loss was the absolute worse. I tried to talk myself into believing that hair loss was just part of the process. It wasn’t. It was a daily reminder that I had cancer. Seeing it in my hands as I shampooed, or it falling freely onto the shoulders of my garments was crushing. Shaving my head was the only way to cope. Still, the knit caps covering my obvious bald head and lack of eyebrows did not stop the stares in the local stores. Rather than feel proud to be alive, fighting and surviving, I was made to feel ashamed. My own father could not look at me. I reminded him of my late mother.
Midway through my treatments, I was referred to a genetic doctor. Two sessions of plotting my family tree and one session for a blood draw, I was told that I was BRCA 1 positive. The doctor looked at me rather gloomy and spoke softly as she gave me the news. “There is a link betweenâ¦The only way to prevent breast cancer… Different types of surgery…” my mind faded in and out as she delivered her speech. She then asked if I needed a moment to myself. A moment? For what? I already have cancer! Removing my breasts just seemed like the next likely step. One year after my last infusion, I underwent the Latissimus Back Flap surgery to which I still (and apparently always will) feel numbness. The thought of silicone implants nauseated me.
I was able to maintain a cancer free status for 19 months. Then, the CA125 number kept going up. At 211, the oncologist said it was too early to treat. For two agonizing months, the doctor and I waited until the numbers reached six hundred, before I was given the okay to once again start chemo. Another 6 rounds; one every three weeks; just as before. This time, I did’t bounce back as easily as last time. The time between each infusion was mostly spent in bed. Not even the bland food could stop the vomiting or diarrhea. Body aches, fatigue, neuropathy and insomnia; I had experienced them all before, but not like this. I was consumed with a general feeling of “yuck”.
Five months after my last infusion, I still experience fatigue, neuropathy, diarrhea and occasionally; body pain. Slowly, very slowly, I’m getting back to me. I starting to walk and exercise again regularly and I’ve begun portion control meals, (I really need to lose this cancer weight). I know I will survive this cancer. I am willing to take whatever steps necessary to continue my fight against this cancer…the same cancer which took my mother’s life. Every day I am alive is a victory against cancer. Every day I wake up is a day cancer has not taken away from me. Every moment which passes, is a moment I am proud to be a part of the fight.