It was like any other Tuesday… After my last class, I was walking in the hallway with my best friend getting ready for cheerleading and gymnastics practice. Suddenly, everything was different. I felt a foreign excruciating pain in my stomach, I felt dizzy, and the next thing I knew, I came to the bathroom and threw up. This pain was unlike anything I had ever felt.
I had painful periods since my very first one at the end of the fourth grade, but this pain had a mind of its own. My best friend called my mom who rushed over to me and drove me to my primary care physician. During the drive, I could not stop moving. Pain interrupted any opportunity that I had to sit still, fasten a seat belt, or take a breath without it being accompanied by a moan for help. Upon arriving at the doctor, and explaining my symptoms, my doctor pressed his boulders for hands on my stomach and quickly gave the diagnosis of a bladder infection. As my mom and I drove home, she tried to assure me in between every moan that I would be okay once the medicine that the doctor prescribed kicked in… little did she know, that she and that doctor were very wrong. I’m honestly not sure how long I waited for the medicine to work before I said to my mom, “Mommy I’ve never had a bladder infection before, but it can’t possibly be this bad. Take me to the hospital.”
I will never forget how cold that hospital was. I will never forget how loud those monitor beeps were. I will also never forget just how arrogantly my pain laughed at the Dilaudid, Morphine, and Toradol that I was given that night. The pain that night changed my life. I received my first pelvic exam that night, and it was during that exam, I finally felt some relief. I then experienced my first ultrasound. To everyone’s surprise, tumors were found on my ovaries. The one on my right ovary was the size of a golf ball, and the one on my left ovary was the size of a grapefruit. A few days later my first surgery ever was scheduled to remove the tumors. When I woke from surgery, I learned that the left tumor had completely taken over my ovary, leaving me without a left ovary or left Fallopian tube. The tumor was kind enough to leave me a partial ovary; not too nice though. After my biopsy came back, I heard the word “cancer” for the first time in my life. While I remember my family deliberating with the doctors at this long beautiful wooden table about my plan of care, I don’t remember much of anything besides sitting at the head of the table fighting with every ounce in me to not cry in front of them. We were told that I had two kinds of tumors, a germ cell, and a teratoma. It was decided that chemotherapy was the best next step. During this course of action, I would be in the hospital for one week, getting treatment daily, and out for two weeks while I could continue going to school. Stage 1 ovarian cancer.
That was my routine for three months, chemo while hospitalized for a week, the side effects of chemo, and teenage angst for two weeks. In the course of a week, I went from “Cammie the varsity cheerleader” to “Cammie the girl with the plague called cancer”. It felt like there wasn’t a person in my life that understood what I was going through. While in the hospital my doctors felt cold. Very rarely did they have a genuine conversation with me. They knew nothing about me. They didn’t know that my favorite color was teal (how ironic), or even that the most important thing in my life was cheerleading. They didn’t know that I wished so badly for my brother to be there in the hospital with me but that he was at college in another state. To sixteen-year-old me, they didn’t care. This felt so strange to me especially because I was on a pediatric oncology unit. When you see kids with cancer in movies the doctors always seemed so personable. I expected to have a Dr. Arizona Robbins, instead, I had a Dr. Christina Chen (season 1). I had visitors almost every day between my family and a few friends. The only time I was truly alone was at night where I was comforted by the hospital monitors and my barf bucket.
I’ve been cancer-free since March 13, 2006, and while I’m grateful for that, my journey over the last 14 years had been nothing short of uncomfortable. Remember that right partial ovary that I mentioned? I’ve had countless painful tumors and fibroids repeatedly form on it over the years; that and scar tissue. I’ve been on every form of birth control to try to treat the pain, including Lupron, where I was not only put in a medically induced menopausal state, but I was always in bed for days with migraines. Finally, in 2018 my gynecologist asked me to consider having a hysterectomy. To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to if I wanted children or not, instead I just quietly smiled through years when people gave me their “assurance” stating, “at least you can still have kids” when they heard my story. At 28 I was asked if I wanted children for the first time, and it was so comforting to prompt me to think about it. I quickly realized that I didn’t want children, that I never wanted them, and that that surgery was the best option for me to have a good quality of life. My gynecologist was amazing. She included my spouse in all of her correspondents, she made it a point to know who my spouse was and more than just her name. She walked me through the process of what would happen surgically, how my body would change after, and kept in touch with me ongoingly, even after the scheduled surgical follow-ups. At 28, I finally felt free. I finally felt what it was like to live without pain.
Written by 16-year-old me:
December 12, 2005
As much as I hate you, I love you.
You have taught me so much, yet you’ve left me so ignorant.
I don’t understand why I detected you so slowly, or how you spread so fast.
You steal, you kill
You bring life, you bring death
You give, you take
You commend, you degrade
Oh, but I am in love with you.
I am in love with everything about you.
I want to know you better, though I am afraid of you.
I am afraid of your thoughts, your presence, your speed, and your intensity.
I am afraid of your heart, your brain, your lungs, your veins.
I am afraid of your breasts, your ovaries, your prostate, your skin.
I am you and you are I, now we are tied together forever.
You are a parasite, I was your home
Now we are tied together forever.
Without me, you would’ve been dead
Now we are tied together forever.
Without you, I would’ve remained weak
Now we are tied together forever.
You taught me how to fight
This fight is so much more than me.
I now know how to fight with my heart, my spirit, and soul
Because of you, I fight for a cause.
I fight for a cure.
Above all, I fight for hope.
Cancer, I must thank you, because, without you, I would not understand me.
I’m 31 now. I am still cancer-free. I am still pain-free. I am still living a life of quality; the only difference is now, I’m just a little more sweaty.