The saying you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone will forever resonate with me like never before, given the paralyzing sense of loss I endured in 2019, at age 33.
Procrastination and Precaution
After putting it off for months, I finally decided to follow-up with my gynecologist regarding concerns of irregular spotting between regular menstrual cycles.
As a precaution, my gynecologist referred me to have a CT scan done, which revealed that I had uterine fibroids. This was not alarming, given that fibroids are common among the women in my family.
However, nestled near my left ovary was a dime-sized cyst. The sonographer insisted that I should not fret over this finding, and proceeded to explain that cysts of this sort are common and often shrink on their own, over time. Still, I could not shake an unsettling feeling days after this appointment, no matter how optimistic I tried to remain.
I Needed Answers
As I wore fitted attire to several formal summer events, I began to notice a small bulge in my lower belly. Initially I thought to myself, “I should really lay off of sweets!” But as the weeks progressed, this pudge, among other physical changes, began to raise concerns.
I wanted answers, and was moved to consult my physician because of flu-like symptoms, which included nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, and abdominal discomfort. My suspicion of pregnancy was ruled out by multiple home pregnancy tests (the first was blank, having no results; the second revealed a negative reading).
Lab results later confirmed that I was not pregnant but rather severely anemic, with an elevated white blood cell count. I was prescribed antibiotics, and received an IV iron infusion, for anemia.
However, during my follow-up appointment less than a week later, my primary care doctor informed me that my white blood cell count had only slightly decreased, and she questioned my soft pudge, which seemed to be changing in form.
As she pressed down firmly on my abdomen, my doctor questioned with a puzzled look, “Does this area not feel firmer to you than it did days earlier?” She then left the exam room, only to return and inform me that she initiated a call to have me transported to the emergency department by ambulance, for further testing, an MRI, and examination of that area.
MRI Reveals a Mass
After hours of testing and waiting in triage, I was informed that the MRI scan revealed a 7-cm mass that was encapsulating my left ovary. I was admitted to the hospital that evening and was prepped for surgery the following morning, which would entail the draining of that mass.
On further review of my scans, it was determined that such a procedure would be too risky, because an incision in the mass could compromise the surrounding organs in the event that they contained cancerous cells.
As a result, I was scheduled for an oophorectomy weeks later, in October 2019, for removal of the left ovary with the mass and the left fallopian tube. My gynecologic oncologist was extremely empathetic and insisted that all measures would be taken to preserve my fertility, given my young age.
However, despite such efforts, on November 13, 2019 (3 weeks post-surgery), I received the most devastating news of my life. My pathology results revealed I had stage IIB ovarian cancer as well as stage IA endometrial carcinoma.
My World Stopped
In an instant, my world stopped! I went from hopeful to the sobering reality of a cancer diagnosis, coupled with the prospect of infertility—a double-edged sword. A hysterectomy was now required to prevent the progression of the cancer. Days before my hysterectomy in December 2019, a second cystic mass was found on my right ovary.
My hopes of one day experiencing the excitement of tiny feet kicking inside my womb were shattered, and I was heartbroken, soon to be barren.
Friends and loved ones often exclaim, “You’re so strong!” or “You’re doing great!” Well, for me it truly was a matter of life or death. In the blink of an eye, I was faced with the decision to give up or give my all to ward off the monster that is cancer!
Spirituality and Support
As of September 2020, I have completed chemotherapy, followed by 6 weeks of radiation, during a global pandemic. To refer to this as challenging would be an understatement.
My spirituality, amazing support system, and an incredible treatment team, have assisted me tremendously in navigating these murky waters.
In addition, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and Steps Through OC of the Clearity Foundation continue to play a vital role in my treatment, by way of counseling and other supportive services for women with reproductive organ (gynecologic) cancers.
Nothing prepares you for the mental and emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis, let alone the physical trauma. I was asked several times how I plan to help others, given my personal experience.
My response has been that I aspire to be a beacon to other women who are sharing a similar plight. I want them to be aware of the array of supportive resources available to them during such critical times. If I can positively affect one woman’s life through outreach and the sharing of my story, then I consider my mission to be fulfilled.