I am an ovarian cancer fighter. I’m 66 years old and I live in Los Angeles. I also have the brca1 mutated gene for breast-ovarian cancer. And I was first diagnosed in 2005, and it is now 2021.
Symptoms and diagnosis
I had a swollen lymph node in my groyne. A doctor had said that it was like a little hernia. It swelled up and was tender and wouldn’t go away. So I moved home once, and it got swollen. And then it didn’t go down and it never got unswollen. So one day I decided, I’m going to touch it, push on it. And it was like a rock. It was not squishy and painful. It was like a rock. Doctors went in for a general repair of a hernia, they saw that there was cancer that had surrounded the lymph node. Doctors said that I had cancer when I woke up from the surgery. That’s how we found ovarian cancer.
Coping with cancer
My mom died of renal cell cancer in 2005. So she died as I went through my treatments, she was going through the very end of life. So I couldn’t go to her funeral because of one of my last chemo treatments. This nearly killed me. She died 16 years ago just last week. So my family was more devastated after hearing about my cancer because my family was already going through cancer with my mother. It was my husband who just couldn’t handle it. Once the diagnosis came and then I had to go through chemo and all of that, that wasn’t so easy to handle. It was a very difficult time in my life because I have two boys. One was just in middle school and my other son was my older son.
My sister and my husband were there. But honestly, people kind of run the other direction and they just wait for you to get better or not. I was just talking about that the other day somewhere, how difficult it is for other people to understand how to speak and treat and be around someone that has cancer. But that’s what we need to talk about a lot more. We need to be more supportive.
Recurrence, side effects, and challenges
But the most difficult thing was having to get my Jewish side of the family together with my brothers and sisters together to explain the hereditary mutation. We are susceptible to a higher rate of potentially having cancer because of our mutation. Currently, I had a recurrence in December of 2018. You would never think your cancer is going to come back after 15 years. The first time I had three rounds of Carboplatin. By the third round, I had such bad neuropathy in my feet. I had to sleep with shoes on my feet for two years. Now I live with that neuropathy. It’s gotten a little bit better, but I’ve lived with that ever since. And that’s a lot of anxiety to go through all of those testing procedures all over again.
The first time, when I was diagnosed with cancer, was because of a lymph node. But this time, when it occurred, it’s now considered it was ovarian cancer. CAT scan and PET didn’t reveal much. My surgeon didn’t do a biopsy. He opened me up to see what was in there. It turned out that my appendix was ready to burst, and was covered in cancer.
He found cancer on my bladder, on my colon outside. I had that surgery. But when I recovered, I had to go through chemo again after six months. I only did three rounds and really had a hard time dealing with that. I ended up in the emergency room due to chemo but made it through, although the treatment made my hair extremely thin. It was really hard on me. It’s back now, but it did take a long time for it to get thick. That was very traumatic for me, especially at my age.
Reaction after being cancer-free
My doctors literally gave me a letter that said I was cured so that I could get my health insurance payment reduced. So I was cured as far as I was concerned. So that was awesome. It’s not a really big celebration to say now after five years. But I think it’s a mixed bag because it takes years to say that.
Every life crisis teaches you a particular lesson. I have decided to focus on living my life. That’s why I say celebrate every day and live your life the best you can. That’s what’s so important. Do self-examination for sure, because you know your body better than anybody. I do think community matters. If you have a community of people around you going through the same thing. They’re trying to be supportive then you just have to have faith.
I’m actually preparing a bucket list. We have our family in Italy and I’m going back in a few weeks to see my grandkids. So I’m going to spend some time with my boys and a few friends in Florida. And then I hope to go to Italy to see my family and then travel around Italy because I feel as though they may say that I have to do chemo again.
Dealing with negativity
Actually, I use cannabis a lot to kind of, I think, block things out. I just try to be happy and go for lots of walks. I love to work in my garden and take care of all my plants because they need me.
Message for other cancer fighters
For us as cancer people, we have to find the light in it. And I feel the light is that we know that we are truly blessed because we know that we have cancer and that so many people don’t. I find the light in the knowledge that I have something that can be taken care of. I, not all of a sudden, one day discover a grapefruit tumour in my back that then kills me in two months. It was because I wasn’t proactive. Go to the doctor and have your checkups. Don’t think you’re invincible when you know if something is wrong because denial is what will kill you in the end. So stay positive, stay aware, and just keep smiling.