As disclosed to Nicole Audrey Spector.
I knew something was amiss when, despite engaging in plenty of cardio exercise, my weight began to steadily increase despite intense cardio workouts. Additionally, I began experiencing pressure in my lower abdomen – as if there was something pressing against it – that could be felt when pressing on it with pressure. And when pressing it directly I could sense a pain-point beneath my right side.
As soon as I became worried, I scheduled an appointment with my OB-GYN who examined me and said the bulge was just muscle and no cause for alarm. Additionally, she noticed I’d gained 10 pounds since my last routine exam six months earlier.
“You must enjoy eating,” she quipped.
I found this statement of the doctor odd.
“I eat clean,” I replied, “and exercise regularly.”
I asked her if it were possible for us to perform a sonogram to further examine what she considered muscle.
“That isn’t necessary,” she stated.
I was shocked and stunned, yet left the appointment believing the doctor must be right – nothing to worry about being 27 years old!
Six months later I completed a Tough Mudder — an obstacle course race which required physical endurance – and felt unusually exhausted afterwards; thinking perhaps that perhaps my workout had been too strenuous, I didn’t give much thought to why this might be.
Soon thereafter, I completed a half-marathon and soon afterward fell ill with fever and began vomiting, my stomach swelling up like I was three months pregnant.
As soon as I experienced these symptoms, I immediately scheduled an appointment with a gastroenterologist, believing they might be linked with stomach issues such as acid reflux.
As soon as my gastroenterologist touched my abdomen, he detected an unusual bulge.
“You are having difficulty,” he noted.
He ordered a CT scan, as well as referring me to another OB-GYN who performed transvaginal ultrasound, which revealed a large mass in my right ovary; according to my CT scan report, it appeared consistent with malignancy and could potentially be cancer.
A mass should be surgically excised immediately and biopsied as soon as possible.
Once I returned home, I immediately began looking for a surgeon who could remove the mass while also accepting my health insurance plan. Although I eventually found one who accepted both criteria, his appointments weren’t available until November.
I had been crying to my boss all week about needing surgery, which he suggested I see his wife’s OB-GYN immediately; even though this doctor didn’t accept my insurance plan either. Still desperate for relief from my mass removal problem, I made an appointment.
He recognized how serious my situation was and agreed to perform surgery if my insurance were accepted; unfortunately, due to financial limitations I couldn’t cover such costly treatment myself.
After I told the doctor which other OB-GYNs accepted my insurance plan but were unavailable immediately for surgery, he knew them personally and managed to get me an appointment with one immediately – saving time and energy on waiting lists!
Prior to my surgery, I signed paperwork agreeing to what might entail it. Though very apprehensive about it all, I agreed to have my uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed if my mass spread to these areas; my OB-GYN was kind in this matter but still scared me; after all I wasn’t sure yet whether or not I wanted children.
After my experience was so traumatic, I declined the option of freezing my eggs; instead I accepted that perhaps my fertility may not return and gave up hope of ever becoming pregnant again.
What got me through signing that terrifying consent form was knowing this would be necessary to unlock answers and start my path of healing.
Before my surgery, I was informed that it should take approximately two hours to remove only the mass in my ovary – any additional spread could take longer.
My sister was with me when I woke up, and the first thing I asked her was what time it was. Seven hours had gone by since my surgery had begun; that was when it hit me that I likely had cancer.
Two weeks post-surgery, I met with my doctor again for an evaluation and she gently informed me of what had transpired: as suspected, I indeed had ovarian cancer of a particularly aggressive type that is usually seen only among much older women than I. To treat it effectively, both of my right ovaries and fallopian tubes had been completely removed – an unexpected but welcome outcome that saved more from removal than otherwise would have happened.
My ovarian cancer was stage one — but that did not mean my journey with cancer was over with its removal. My doctors advised me to undergo chemotherapy just in case any microscopic cancer cells had spread to other parts of my body.
As much as chemotherapy would make me sick, my doctors were firm in their advice that it was essential in ensuring the cancer did not spread further. They recommended six cycles and I agreed.
As I expected, chemotherapy’s side effects were severe: fatigue, sickness and severe neuropathy in my hands; I also lost all of my hair. Following the third cycle, I sought a second opinion from an oncologist, who informed me that three rounds should have sufficed; nevertheless, I went ahead with four just to be safe.
Chemo was successful, and today – 11 years later! – I remain cancer free.
My experience with ovarian cancer profoundly shifted my outlook, showing me just how precious life truly is. It shifted my priorities – I quit my high-stress job, went on vacations I’d always dreamt about and became less materialistic.
My experience also revealed an alarming truth: doctors can be shockingly dismissive of patient symptoms. Had my original OB-GYN taken me more seriously and investigated my symptoms, maybe the mass would not have grown as large.
While also experiencing an oncologist as someone I could trust and collaborate with, I discovered how wonderfully collaborative doctors can be. My oncologist not only was kind but took my concerns seriously and was careful not to do anything before I fully understood and agreed with it. Furthermore, he’s become an incredible advocate in raising ovarian cancer awareness – where my voice has also been heard!
I hope the cancer does not return, but if it does I feel confident that I’ll be in safe and knowledgeable hands that can guide me toward making decisions that best serve both my health and life.
This educational resource was produced in partnership with Tell Every Amazing Lady and with support from Merck.
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