In 2015, I was planning a wedding to begin a new chapter of my life. Not only was I preoccupied with planning a ceremony, but being a mother of two small girls and working full time, your symptoms take a back seat.
I was tired, very tired, like lying on a dirty floor, I don’t care, kind of tired. I went to my primary care provider (PCP), and they ran bloodwork. My PCP said I was a bit anemic and sent me on my way. So back to the grind I went, and after a few months, I started to have a bit of pain in my lower abdomen. I explained the pain away as something I ate, a stomach bug, or gas. After I was married, I thought it had been muscle pain due to playing volleyball at our outdoor ceremony at the park.
Suddenly, my story took a drastic turn. As the pain continued, the fatigue got worse, and I slept a lot. One day, after sleeping the entire day practically, I woke up to pain so unbearable that my husband and I went to the emergency room. The doctors there found a tumor the size of a football IN my ovary. I was referred to my obstetrician (OB), who explained that what I had was a dermoid cyst. Due to its size, my OB sent me directly to a surgeon that day. Later that week, I was scheduled for an oophorectomy (removal of one or both ovaries). The surgeon realized my condition was more severe – it was a rare form of germ cell ovarian cancer called an immature teratoma. This type of ovarian cancer grows very fast.
I was referred to a gynecological oncologist, and we agreed that a total hysterectomy would be best, as it would reduce my chance of recurrence. Once my pathology came back, I was diagnosed with stage IC ovarian cancer. I was prescribed four rounds of chemotherapy (three drugs were used – bleomycin, etoposide, and cisplatin). Those next four months were moments that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but I got through it with the love and support of family and friends. By February 2016, I was in remission, happy to put those horrible memories behind us.
In October of that same year, I was at my twin nephews’ birthday party and began to feel pain again. I returned to the emergency room, where more tumors were discovered. I was sent to Magee-Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh for multiple biopsies. In addition to the biopsies, I had exploratory surgery to remove three tumors located in different areas around my abdomen and one on my appendix. My family and I waited for what felt like months for the pathology to return. Because I had already had chemotherapy and would not repeat the same treatment, we were fearful about what my next steps would be if it turned out to be cancer. In some cases, repeating the same treatment regimen can cause second cancers like leukemia.
Fortunately, we received the news we had hoped for. The three tumors were found to be benign (non-cancerous) mature teratomas. Moving forward, the concern was less about the potential of cancer and more about when and where these tumors might appear in the future, as these would require additional surgery.
After five years of monitoring symptoms, bloodwork, physical exams, and CTs, I reached my five-year mark. I still have to be vigilant and make sure that I monitor for any symptoms, but I am hopeful that I can now turn a corner and put this chapter to a close. It’s hard to try not to relive each moment when seeing a new doctor, watching a commercial, or seeing a movie with someone with the disease. There’s a level of PTSD that comes from going through this disease. I feel that managing this should be a focus for physicians to help survivors. Sometimes when I question, “why me?” I remind myself that I fought and I won and that no matter what comes my way in the future, I know I will fight again.
I’m a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a coworker, a coach, a fighter, and a survivor.
Olga is 41 years old. She and her blended family live in Pennsylvania. She spends her time very involved in her daughters’ activities and enjoys hiking, nature, and all things animals.
She can be followed on Instagram @drag0nf1y44