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Susan Rienzo (Ovarian Cancer Survivor)

Susan Rienzo (Ovarian Cancer Survivor)

My cancer journey began in 2016 when I started to feel discomfort in the lower right side of my abdomen and went to the doctor a few times to figure out what it was. I had some blood tests and x-rays done, but the doctors could not find anything. It started getting worse, and I woke up one night because of it. I was not planning on going to the doctor that night, but my husband convinced me. The doctor thought it might be kidney stones and sent me for a CT scan, and by the end of the day, they called me back and told me that they found a mass in my ovary and that it was ovarian cancer.

In my family, my father had prostate cancer, but other than that, no one in the family had any cancer. After I was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer, my genes were tested, showing that I did not have a predisposition to cancer. So, I guess it was just by chance that I got ovarian cancer.

Our first reaction to the news

My initial reaction was shocking. My family were very worried and did not know what to do. My husband was the first person I told the news to, and that night, all we could do was go out and take a walk because we did not know what else to do. Cancer also presented itself in a very unusual way, it was stage 4 ovarian cancer, and it was right against my liver. Still, the doctor could not determine if it had gotten to the liver or not.

I was referred to an excellent oncologist specialising only in reproductive cancer, and he wanted another MRI done to ensure everything was right. He looked at the MRI report and confirmed that the cancer was against the liver but not in it and suggested that I go through with surgery and chemotherapy.

The doctor had an amazing attitude about the process from the get-go. We could tell he was taking the disease seriously but did not have a gloomy outlook. He had a hopeful, practical approach to the whole thing.

The treatment process

The first thing the doctors did after I got diagnosed was send me for the CA 125 antigen test. The ideal result should be less than 35 for an average person, but for me, the rate was over 4000. The plan was to give me five rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the mass, reduce the antigen level, and then perform surgery to remove the tumour, followed by more chemotherapy to prevent a relapse.

This happened in April, and I told my doctor that my family had planned a trip in June and asked if there was any possible way for me to make it. He told me that I could finish the chemotherapy and go on the trip and come back for the surgery.

There was a liver specialist whom we consulted too because the tumour mass was right against the liver, and he told me about all the things that could go wrong, and that shook me up, but everything went by just fine, and the surgery was a success. I had a total of 17 rounds of chemotherapy throughout the treatment.

I have been cancer free for six years and used to take the CA 125 antigen test every 4 to 6 months, but now I have reduced it to once a year. I celebrated the sixth anniversary of defeating cancer. The oncologist who went through the journey with me asked me how I did it because he had never heard of stage 4 ovarian cancer patient getting through the treatment quickly. I firmly believe that it was because of the fantastic people in my life.

Mental and emotional well-being during the journey

The most challenging time for me during the treatment was after the surgery. The operation went well, and I was responding well to the treatment and was on the road to recovery, but I did not feel happy. I was, for some reason, depressed, and when I read about it, I came to know that post-surgical depression was not that uncommon.

Until that point in the process, I had been on autopilot, doing the things I was told to do and not thinking about anything. After the surgery, it hit me that I had been through a lot.

I am a very active person, and I had to stop working when the treatment began, which also took a toll on me.

I had to understand that this was the time to take everything easy and not stress about anything too much. I started to realise that I did not have to be a busy person all the time and began taking naps when I felt like it, reading a lot and listening to music. I did minimal things that kept me as occupied as possible and tried not to overthink anything.

Things that kept me going through this cancer journey

Despite being depressed for some time, the thought of giving up never occurred to me. I had a lot of people in my life who depended on me, and there were so many things happening that kept me going. Ultimately the people in my life made sure I was as comfortable as I could be going through the treatment and were a constant support.

I had this very good friend, Lauren, who insisted that she drive me to the chemotherapy sessions every week, and after the treatment, we would go out for lunch and make it a little fun time out. Ive also had friends there to assure me that it was okay to feel whatever I felt when I was feeling particularly down. These wonderful people were there for me; I think that is all I needed to get through the treatment.

Lessons I learned through this journey

The first thing that I learned was to appreciate each day. We have all heard it, and we all know it, but it hit me because I woke up one fine day and got diagnosed with cancer by the end of the day. So it is vital to know the value of each day you have.

The second lesson would be to take responsibility for your own body. I was lucky that the cancer was pushing against my liver because that made me uncomfortable and probed me to check it out. It is essential to keep a check on your health to avoid any surprises.

The third lesson would always be to be positive. It is important because things will not always go your way, and you must stay positive to overcome them.

My message to cancer patients and caregivers

I would tell the caregivers to let the patients feel what they feel. Many people get so caught up in trying to make the patients feel positive all the time that they dont get the time to process the emotions that they are feeling.

To the patients, I would say, have faith and let the people around you help you. Also, find a doctor whom you have confidence in, and if you dont have confidence in them, find someone else. This will reduce the stress about the treatment and the medical aspects of your cancer journey so that you can focus on yourself.

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