Finding out that my mom may have ovarian cancer, didn’t hit me as I thought it would. Explaining to my mom (a nurse) and my family what the next steps might be, has been my job for the last 4 years as a medical oncology nurse. It wasn’t until the night after the doctor reviewed my mom’s CT scan that it finally set in. The CT scan revealed metastasis to other organs in her abdomen, even though they couldn’t diagnose without surgery, they speculated it could be stage IV cancer.
My mom sweetly asked me as I got home from work “my oncology nurse what do you think are my chances of survival?”. I remember taking my phone out and reviewing the five-year survival rates for stage IV ovarian cancers. In her case, it was approximately 30-76% depending on if the tumors were regional or distant. I reassured her we’d take it one day at a time with a smile, but I felt my mouth go dry and the biggest lump growing in the back of my throat. I took the longest shower to let all my tears out and worried about what our journey would be like as I’ve seen a plethora of different cancer journeys.
A few things to know about my mom, she is a workaholic, generous, and a FIGHTER. I know it might sound cliché coming from a daughter but hear me out. In 1996, my mom left everything she knew in India with her two young daughters in hopes of a life full of opportunity in New York City. Like many immigrants, she had to start from scratch. She worked her way up; taking night classes to become a teacher but with the influence of our aunt (an amazing nurse practitioner) and working at a doctor’s office, she later changed her major to become a nurse. My mom will tell you that the hardest part of her journey has been chemotherapy, but there have been many different bumps along the road. She’s battled a total abdominal hysterectomy with reconstruction to her diaphragm, post-op complications, 6 rounds of chemo, chemo reactions, hair loss, recurrent UTIs and her first question during every doctor’s visit was “when can I work again”? In the middle of a pandemic, post-surgery and post-chemotherapy her mind was on getting better to take care of others.
During each trial and tribulation of my mom’s journey, I can’t say how proud of my family I am. My initial response was to immediately stop everything and I told my mom I’d put my last semester of graduate school on hold, my mom’s answer was “over my dead body”. Our family was lucky to have had my mom’s surgery scheduled for January 28th, months before the COVID-19 surge when visitation was allowed. My aunt and sister were pivotal as they made a schedule with shifts we would all take at the hospital. This was to keep her spirits up and stay keen on any changes she went through. My grandma was and is our prayer warrior, she’s committed to saying the rosary 2-3xs a day for my mom’s healing. My dad who’s not in the medical field struggled to find where his role would be, so he took the time to read books about cancer stories and caregiving. He would drive me to work to lessen my exposure to COVID. Right before I’d leave we’d bump elbows and he’d say “I’m so proud of you”. As we took turns to take care of each other and our mom, we all fell into our new family slogan “in this family no one fights alone”.
Looking back here’s my advice to anyone fighting cancer, using my mom’s experience and many of my patients; do not fight this alone; find your support system, be okay with listening to your body, understand that healing is never a linear trajectory and lastly find positivity wherever you can. Something we couldn’t give my mom was the complete understanding of battling cancer. NOCC gave her a community of women fighting cancer. These women deal with the loss of their jobs, normalcy, and the feelings of lack of control in their lives. When my mom found the NOCC, they welcomed her with a bag of goodies she could take to her chemotherapy sessions and a community of women sharing their stories of survival. Almost one year later, my mom’s last PET scan was cancer-free, and she’s back to working full time as a dialysis nurse! We are very blessed and grateful to be telling this story and count every day as a blessing because of our team of surgeons, oncologists, nurses, medical staff at Memorial Sloan but also all our friends who have helped us along this journey. My mom’s legacy work is to continue to share her story and to make sure no one fights alone in their own journey.
Wynette Almeida is the daughter of a Survivor, patient advocate, and oncology nurse in New York City. She has become a member of NOCC in support of her mom’s journey and to continue her life’s purpose as an advocate for quality of life in oncology patients. This year she won the Top RN finisher in the Together in TEAL 5K run.