Photo Credit: Ranee Flynn
I am living with ovarian cancer -- emphasis on the word LIVING.
In fact, I feel more comfortable saying I had cancer (past tense), even though I'm going through chemo, blood tests, examinations and the rest. This isn't denial (been through that); it’s my subconscious speaking to my cells: All is good. Lessons have been learned. Time for my immune system to take care of anything running amok. Time for me to participate in my healing.
My cancer-life began six years ago. It started with a backache and an MRI, and has progressed through eight surgeries and countless rounds of chemo. Oddly, I had always been afraid of ovarian cancer. Not because of any family history of the disease, but just because it seemed the most sinister. In honesty, I scared myself silly reading online medical sites.
Of course, I didn’t have the classic symptoms described in those articles. My primary care physician prescribed a chiropractor and yoga for the backache. An MRI later indicated what appeared to be an ovarian cyst, but no one (except me) was terribly concerned. In fact, it wasn’t until surgery to remove and biopsy the cyst that I got my diagnosis.
I was stunned -- literally had to put my head between my knees to keep from fainting. I didn’t tell my husband until the next day; somehow saying it out loud would make it more real.
Believe it or not (here's the denial), I didn't tell my work colleagues. I wanted everything to remain "normal,” so I never shared my diagnosis, taking time off only when necessary for surgery and working all through my chemotherapy treatments. I now try to be a bit kinder to myself.
One of the most difficult parts of the journey is trying to make sense of the "why?" Did I contribute to this outcome? Some cancer patients blame themselves for doing something wrong. I just let that question go.
Some people think their cancer journey is a chance to make choices and changes that would've been out of character B.C. (before cancer). I try to be in that camp. I'm not chipper all the time, but I do make the effort to remain optimistic.
So, I feel amazing that something good would come out of my trauma. My dear friend Laura Mercier, founder of Laura Mercier cosmetics and co-founder of the Laura Mercier Ovarian Cancer Fund, was one of the few people I told about my cancer. She provided that “silver lining” for me. She was also a great help in teaching me how to draw on eyebrows and use liner when my eyelashes disappeared. Wow.
Most women know very little about ovarian cancer, even though it’s the leading cause of death among gynecological cancers and most women, when finally diagnosed, usually have advanced disease.
It’s so important to educate yourself about this disease. You need to be knowledgeable to be an effective advocate for yourself. After all, it’s your body – your doctor can’t know what you feel. You have to take ownership of your health and well-being…and ask for and accept help when needed. Today, I am undergoing treatment yet again. But I am far less fearful of the cancer and the treatments than the woman I was six years ago. Perhaps it is simply because I'm focusing on how to live with my cancer rather than waiting for cancer to go away so I can live.
For more information about ovarian cancer and the Laura Mercier Ovarian Cancer fund, go to lmocf.org.