December 23rd of 1997 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was 23 years old. This is my story.
After already experiencing a long, painful, and sleepless night, I was almost too sleepy to grow weary of yet again laying in a cold room, on a stiff slab of a bed, covered with thin, scratchy white sheets.
“So, I can’t seem to find one of your ovaries…”
Dr. Nilson was performing a sonogram on me. I had been referred to him after spending the night in the emergency room only to be sent home with a dose of pain meds, a stock endometriosis assumption, and a confused doctor look. Here I lay looking up at yet another confused doctor. That’s twice in 24 hours. Not comforting.
Over a very long period of time, years even, a sharp and irritating pain progressed from showing up once a month (which older women advised me to attribute to ovulating) to a sharper and more frequent visit of every 15 minutes. The pain was accompanied by an also increasing amount of bathroom visits. I went from going a few times a day, like any normal person, to a few times every hour. As with the pain, the progression was over such a vast period of time that it glided right by my own recognition of it. Over time I just became the girl that had bad cramps and a small bladder. I drank lots of cranberry juice and took regular hot baths for remedies, but the pain and frequency became too much to ignore.
Two days before Christmas I was checked in for outpatient surgery to find out where that missing ovary was hiding. The plan was to be in and out in a matter of hours and Texas bound in time to spend Christmas with my family. “Don’t worry, you’re young and in good health.. the very worst case scenario is cancer — and that’such a very slim chance. There are a dozen things that could be going on and all are treatable. You don’t have anything to be worried about,” Dr. Nilson assured me.
As politely as I could, I gripped the arm of his shirt and stated that I didn’t care about cancer or anything else that it might be… “just make sure when I walk out of this hospital that I’m still able to have a baby.” That’s all I cared about. I had wanted a daughter for as long as I could remember and my only fear was for that dream to somehow be killed in surgery.
This is the point where “outpatient surgery” turns into “worst case scenario”.
Christmas eve, a day later, I found myself still laying in the hospital bed, groggily opening my eyes to a circle of family members looking over me. In the center of the group stood my doctor… in tears.
There are 5 stages of this ovarian cancer: 1 through 5. Within each stage there are 3 levels. I was diagnosed with 5C (meaning it couldn’t get any worse). That missing ovary was found. One of the cancer tumors had attached to the ovary and over time grew to a heavy golf ball size, twisting the ovary around and laying it on my bladder… hence the slow progression of pain and futile bathroom trips over the years.
And there were many more tumors where that came from. They were everywhere, completely infesting my body in every crevice and flowing freely in liquids throughout my body. The biopsy pictures were a visual nightmare, but a physical reality. I was given the grim statistics of this rare type of cancer, usually found in women 80 yrs. of age and older, living a maximum of 2-5 years – and that being with extremely aggressive chemotherapy treatment.
But none of this phased me. The very word, “cancer”, was far from me… unfamiliar. When you don’t know anyone close to you that has ever had cancer, it simply sounds like a terrible thing for someone else to have to go through. Chemo didn’t scare me. What is chemo anyway? Tumors, statistics, biopsies, treatments… these words went in one ear and out the other without so much as striking a chord in me. The only word I heard was “hysterectomy”.