I knew what my chances were. I knew they weren’t good. But I refused to live by the numbers, the statistics. I refused to wake up every day and think about the fact that my chance of having a recurrence was roughly 85 percent.
Yes, you heard that right, 85 percent… within 2 years. I made it exactly one year and 4 months before I knew. Right around the time we were planning our annual Catwalk for a Cause fundraiser, I had my three-month blood work done and my CA-125 (the tumor marker that monitors my cancer) was rising. I don’t get hung up on numbers much so I didn’t think too much about it. But my doctor wanted to recheck in 30 days. If the trend continued upward, we’d need to do a scan. Unfortunately, it was rising, so we decided to do a PET scan.
Going in for a PET scan is probably one of the most nerve wracking, scary tests I’ve ever done. You’re alone in a cold, sterile room with an enormous machine looming over you while a strange voice tells you to hold your breath and you silently pray the tech doesn’t see anything light up on the screen that screams CANCER.
Then comes the wait. That dreaded call from your doctor telling you whether your cancer is back or not. Time stands still. For me, I try to keep myself busy with friends and family, knowing that no matter how much I worry, nothing will change whether my cancer is back or not.
Unfortunately for me, that call came and it was both good news and bad news. Good news: My body didn’t light up like a Christmas tree on the scan…Bad news: There was a tumor in my spleen and a small spot on my liver. I would need to meet with a team of doctors soon to prepare for surgery to remove the cancer that had come back as an uninvited guest.
Fast forward a week and surgery went well. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to have my tumors removed surgically (most aren’t able to have surgery because of too much tumor burden). I considered myself especially lucky when I woke up after surgery and doctors told me they were able to do the procedure lapriscopically and that I wasn’t full of disease in my abdomen like most Stage 3 ovarian cancer patients who experience a recurrence.
After a month of allowing my body to recover from the surgery, I’m back on the dreaded drugs. I started my first cycle of Carboplatin and Doxil recently. I’ve committed to doing four rounds as “insurance” to try and kill any microscopic cells that could have been left behind after surgery. So far I feel pretty good. Just super tired and weak, but I can handle that! I’ve done IP chemo and know how much worse it could be.
People ask me all the time how I always have a smile on my face and stay positive when it comes to my disease. The answer is simple: It could always be worse. I don’t look at my disease as a death sentence. Just the opposite, actually. I look at it as the opportunity to live like you are dying. To experience and know a type of joy that most people will never feel. It’s an opportunity to spend precious time with loved ones and make memories that they’ll carry with them forever. (I wrote about practicing gratitude here.)
I know the statistics of my disease. Yes, I know it’s deadly. But aren’t we all going to die? There is no written code somewhere that says I will die before any one of my friends or family. None of us knows when our last day here will be. I refuse to live in fear — in fear of the what ifs, the statistics. I’m too busy enjoying all the amazing things God has put in my path right now.
As we embark on the month of September, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, I encourage you to educate a friend about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Tell them your yearly exam does NOT check for ovarian cancer, that no there isn’t an early detection test for this horrible disease. Make sure the men and women in your life know the signs and symptoms — bloating, fatigue, pelvic pain, back pain, trouble eating, frequent urination — and that if these symptoms persist over the course of three weeks, to get help from a doctor.