As told to Nicole Audrey Spector.
At 48, I suddenly experienced stabbing pain in my lower right abdomen. Though the discomfort came and went quickly, I didn’t take too much notice at first; perhaps because the sensation came and went quickly?
One night, however, my pain became unbearable and I thought I might die. I developed a high fever and became violently ill – my heart raced and sweat poured off of me trembling with fear.
I lived alone and considered calling an ambulance; instead I decided to just try and make it through the night until eventually falling asleep. When morning came I made an appointment with my healthcare provider (HCP), who saw me immediately.
As soon as I arrived at my primary care provider’s office, they immediately recognized something was amiss with my health. Fearing I may have appendicitis, they put me in an ambulance and sent me off to a nearby hospital, where they conducted numerous tests to ascertain exactly what was wrong with me.
A CT and MRI both revealed a massive, possibly cancerous mass on my left ovary and two smaller ones on both of my right ones, the former apparently moving and causing pain on my lower right side.
I remember looking at an image of a larger mass and feeling disoriented in my body. I remember wondering, “So this is how people find out they may have cancer?”
Not being afraid was quite surreal for me! Thanks to the quality of care from the emergency room doctor I saw – who was respectful, easy to talk with, and an exceptional listener; in constant communication with my HCP who promptly reviewed all tests performed and referred me to Dr. Stone, an incredible OB-GYN who later reviewed my records as part of an impressive team effort.
Dr. Stone quickly demonstrated her dedication to self-advocacy. Like my healthcare team in the ER, her team was exceptional – they treated me as an active participant rather than someone simply receiving care; never once did I need to fight to be heard by decision makers about decisions related to my care.
No doubt was left as to the necessity of surgically extracting my ovary with its larger mass immediately, but its nature remained uncertain. If cancer were confirmed during surgery, steps would need to be taken accordingly – potentially including radical hysterectomy surgery to remove my cervix, uterus, part of vagina, and nearby lymph nodes if required by Dr. Stone and myself if necessary. I agreed with this procedure.
Dr. Stone and her team took an incisional biopsy immediately following surgery and confirmed I had ovarian cancer; as soon as this diagnosis was made, a radical hysterectomy was immediately scheduled.
As soon as I woke up from surgery, my mother came in to inform me of my diagnosis: ovarian cancer. While she was devastated, I actually took the news quite well: never having married nor had children was something I never considered desirable, but thanks to my mom I now realize living alone doesn’t equate to having less of a life than one with husbands and children. So losing reproductive organs wasn’t saddening at all; rather it seemed necessary in order to combat cancer effectively.
Peace came easily thanks to my faith and trust in God. Instead of asking for freedom from cancer or even just not dying, I surrendered myself completely to his plan and love – this gave me confidence that made life easier and gave me strength and assurance in myself and in myself alone.
Soon after undergoing surgery, I realized I had made the correct choice.
Dr. Stone assured me of this fact: I will recover 100%!
Though my surgery had gone well, my battle against cancer had just begun. Dr. Stone explained that because ovaries move around inside your abdomen cavity and release cancerous cells into it, four months of chemotherapy would likely be required in order to eliminate them all.
Chemo was tougher than I imagined it would be, yet I tried my hardest to maintain a positive outlook and find some aspects less traumatizing than anticipated. For instance, while losing my hair could have been traumatizing for me personally, instead it turned out that going proactive made things less so. For instance, instead of worrying about it too much during chemotherapy sessions I made use of the cancer resource center’s free buzzcut and free wig services; trying them all on was like being at Disneyland; my natural hair hadn’t made me feel beautiful so these made up just what my natural hair hadn’t.
As I underwent chemotherapy treatments, I had to reduce some of my work obligations. My colleagues and community were wonderfully understanding; as a result, I moved into part-time employment. At first this felt unsettling – after all, I’m an artist at heart who often puts their artistic passion on hold so they can prioritize work duties – but through chemotherapy treatment came clarity: first be an artist then an employee.
Even once chemotherapy was finished and I was declared disease-free, I continued to explore who I was as an artist. I changed jobs to become a cancer self-management facilitator – not only does this position fulfill my passion for advocacy work; but it allows more time for creating art – something which brings me true happiness.
Cancer can be terrifying. I know first-hand from personal experience. Yet it can also be transformative: thanks to God, an incredible medical team and my inner wisdom emerging, I am an even better and more fulfilled human now than I was prior to cancer diagnosis.
This resource was produced with support from Merck.
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