My husband and I had been trying to have a baby since the birth of our son in 1999. By 2002 I had already had three miscarriages, and in February of 2003, we learned that I was pregnant again.
During the years leading up to this pregnancy, I suffered from consistent, painful, large ovarian cysts on both ovaries. Each cyst would typically only last a month or two and then rupture. However, when it was discovered that I was pregnant again and at nine weeks, via ultrasound, a large cyst was present. If it continued to grow, we would evaluate the risks of removing it. At my 12 week appointment, the baby’s heartbeat was confirmed, and our doctor suggested that we see a genetics counselor with this pregnancy. At 14.5 weeks we went in to see our new doctor, and they performed an ultrasound to determine what, if anything, needed to be addressed. It was then we knew immediately that something was wrong. Our baby boy had died.
It was discovered that a mass had grown to the size of a deflated soccer ball. The mass was so large that it was determined that the blood our baby needed was being fed to the tumor instead. We scheduled another surgery to remove an ovary. We knew the risks of wanting to grow our family, but we were willing to take them. I was back in the operating room within a week and it was determined that the ovary and fallopian tube had to be removed along with some testing of lymph nodes, etc.
The road to recovery, in the first few years, was hard. From 2003 to 2010 I had multiple surgeries. We had also been through fertility treatments, and I was unable to get pregnant after the first ovary was removed. My remaining ovary was not functioning properly, and I would never be able to get pregnant For my health and sanity, my husband and I made the decision in 2007 for me to have a full hysterectomy. This was a very hard decision but only made after another cyst was discovered on my right ovary that looked suspicious. After the hysterectomy, I had a scare in 2010 with what turned out to be a 3cm x 2cm inclusion cyst behind my colon that was thought to be a reoccurrence of cancer. Since 2010 I have had no issues!
My husband Chris has been my rock. He stood by my side during all of this and continually would say ‘whatever you want to do, we will face it head-on, together.’ Our son was so little during most of this, but during my 2010 surgery when he was 11 years old, he was so sweet and loving, which really sustained me. My mother, a breast cancer survivor herself, has and always will be my person. My in-laws and aunt have also been an amazing support system.
To help educate people, every September I launch a social media awareness campaign. I want other women to realize that taking care of their bodies has to be a priority. So often we forget about ourselves until it is too late. I sometimes think, had I not been pregnant, I may have not caught the cancer in its early stages. I learned a tough lesson in May 2003 to never ignore your body. Know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer; it might just save your life.
Michelle is an 18-year ovarian cancer Survivor.