It felt like I had pulled a muscle in my stomach, well that’s what we thought it was. I couldn’t think of when I had pulled it through, someone suggested I sneezed hard, we went with that. All week the pain was there but I worked around it. It was a busy week so I just pressed on and figured I would rest later. Friday night the pain intensified, it felt like I was in labor. My sister thought it was appendicitis and told me to go to the emergency room. I protested, Friday night in the emergency room did not sound appealing. My husband grabbed his coat and said, “let’s go.” I agreed to go to urgent care. Once there, they too thought maybe appendicitis – the pain was getting stronger. Luckily, we were close to a hospital and they called an ambulance to come to get me.
I don’t remember much from the emergency room, there was a scan but I don’t remember having it done. I do remember them telling us that it wasn’t my appendix, in fact, they couldn’t see it because I had a mass. They gave me something for the pain and told me they were going to try to get a specialist in to see me the next day. I was admitted in the early hours of Saturday morning. Doctor Rosenshine came, he said it looks like I have a mass. Surgery, a debulking surgery, had to happen. Since I was in so much pain it was decided to keep me at the hospital, and he would add me to his Monday surgery schedule.
Monday came and it still didn’t hit me what a mass could mean. Wheeling into the surgery I got scared, I think Doctor Rosenshine noticed and he grabbed my hand and said they are going to do their best, he was going to be right there. I was comforted and fell asleep. Ten days after I was admitted into the hospital I got to go home, it was Super Bowl Sunday. About a week later we met with Doctor Rosenshine, he told us that the 13-centimeter mass was ovarian cancer, stage 3c. I was shocked – it was the first time I understood what that mass was. He had got most of it, read a long list of items removed, but there was a small cluster that was too dangerous to get. I was going to need chemo. He worked with a great oncologist and she would take over my treatment.
Doctor Warner was sharp, she came up with a plan, and as soon as I was strong enough in my recovery from the surgery we would start the chemo. I did Taxol and Carboplatin for six months. It was painful and I lost all of my hair but the results were good. Then 6 months later my CA-125 started to rise so I needed chemo again. This time it was Doxil for 9 months, and this time I would get sores. I got sores in my mouth and on my body, mainly my hands and feet, but the results were good so we pressed on. About a year later my CA-125 started to rise again.
Instead of trying a third traditional chemo, Doctor Warner suggested I look at some of the trials happening. After much research, I found one that I could do. It was at NIH and I would have to be in the hospital for a week with them giving me injections into my abdomen. It all went fine until about 24 hours after I left the hospital, I got really sick (not sure if it was the trial or I picked up something) so I had to stop. The good news was that the doctor helped me get connected with another branch at NIH that had a trial opening. I was a good fit for this trial and I have been with on it now for over 5 years with great results, my last CA-125 was 5. It is a monthly immunotherapy infusion and a daily pill (Olaparib) I take a couple of times a day. I still get tired, achy, and sores but not at the same level as I had with the first two chemos.
The walk was the first activity I participated in with NOCC, it was extremely powerful. It was just a few months after my initial chemo, and I was nervous about what I was getting myself into. I remember seeing a woman tying up her tennis shoes because she was going to run, she also had a ponytail (those things stood out to me while I was bald), and she had a Survivor shirt on. Wow, that moment hit me, there were Survivors and I was going to fight to be one. Then I was visiting the Survivor booth and adding my handprint when a woman came up and asked me how long since I was diagnosed. She told me it was about a year for her, she had the cutest, softest, curly hair. I know it is soft because she saw me looking at her head and she told me I could touch it, she told me a lot of hair comes back like that. It was so soft, it was such a beautiful feeling. That was my new goal, to get my hair back. My long-term goal is to run at the event (still working on that goal but it is going to happen). Having my family there to support me as I took another step in my journey, was such a strong moment for me and I know for them to see the other incredible women there helped them deal with a very scary time as well. Even though I haven’t participated in as many events as I would have liked, it is incredibly helpful to know there is a group of women that are going through or have gone through what I have and are there if I need them.
Build a support structure to support you and don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need, I had to let myself be okay asking for help. I was diagnosed around the same time my husband was going through the Wounded Warrior program at Walter Reed. I learned early on that I needed someone to come to my appointments with me, even if it was just a checkup because at every appointment I was scared and over-analyzing everything being shared. Having a family member or friend with you can make it easier. They would cry with me if needed and then help get me to the next step. I also saved all the cards, emails, and notes of well wishes and love sent. I stashed these in different places, some in my bedroom, some in my work bag, a special folder in my email, and hung them on my wall. When I needed a little pick me up, I would read them over again and knew I was not in this fight alone.
I can work, I saw my oldest graduate from high school, and my youngest will graduate this school year. I am so thankful. I am so thankful for all of those that stood by me and helped get me to where I am today. Doctors, nurses, friends, neighbors, support groups, and my family, I couldn’t have gotten here without them and their faith, strength, and love.
Jamie Gomez is a member of the Tlingit & Haida Tribe of Alaska, now living in Cheverly, MD with her husband Rudy, boys Christian and Brandon, dog Tebo, and hamster Pablo. She works full time at a national Native non-profit and when not working she enjoys the outdoors, road trips, and spending time with her family and friends.