I am an ovarian cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with Stage 3c ovarian cancer on Jan. 22, 2022, and at the time, I was in the best physical shape of my life due to my love of running. I was a newlywed; my kids were thriving in college & at their jobs. I had everything I could possibly want, and basking in happiness. Then in the span of one week, everything changed.
I initially noticed some mild abdominal distention and chalked this up to being a newlywed (happiness pounds). Then, I wasn’t eating as much as usual, which I attributed to my decreased mileage. Even as my appetite remained the same, the amount of food I was eating was about half of my norm. I thought, “good, maybe I will lose some of this belly fat.” In retrospect, these subtle symptoms started a few weeks before anything else.
Then I began to feel low pelvic pain, mild at first, so I ignored it, thinking I pulled a muscle while running. This was a Saturday. Over the following week, my abdominal distention increased almost daily, and by Wednesday, I had to take ibuprofen at least three times a day to be able to walk & stay on my feet at work. My appetite did not change, but the amount of food that made me feel full decreased by the day.
By the following Saturday, I met friends for our weekly morning run, followed by breakfast. I could run but felt pelvic pain with each footfall. One of my friends asked if we could cut the run short, she was not feeling it, and I happily agreed, ready for the jarring pain with each step to stop.
I am a nurse, and so are my friends, so I finally spoke up and told them all the symptoms I’d been experiencing. They encouraged me to have it checked out. My doctor is open on Saturday mornings, so I went to see her. The following Monday, I was at the local hospital having an ultrasound. I knew the results would be bad because ultrasounds don’t usually last 45 minutes unless there is something to see.
At 3 pm the same day, my world was turned upside down. I cannot begin to find the words to describe what I felt as the ultrasound results were given to me over the phone. I was home alone, & I honestly do not remember what I did next.
The days followed were full of oncology appointments, biopsies, CT scans, and port placements. I was swept along in a current of urgency & shock. Nine weeks of chemo, a seven-hour open abdominal surgery, then six more weeks of chemo later, I decided to do something with my survival: Raise awareness so that one day, no other woman will have to endure what I did.
The advice I would give to anyone newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer would be to write your own story. I am a nurse practitioner, so when I was first diagnosed, I naturally read all the medical literature I could about stage 3c ovarian cancer, then brought all my questions to each appointment with my oncologist.
My oncologist patiently answered my questions but recommended I stop focusing on the research and statistics related to treatment and survival. He told me every patient is different and most of those statistics are outdated.
While educating yourself about your diagnosis and its treatment is important, so is putting things into the context of your individuality. I stopped reading all the literature I could find and instead focused on my individual treatment and response to it. Frankly, this was the best thing I could have done.
I became determined to blaze my own trail through this nightmare, and with the support of my faith and family, I have done just that. I stubbornly put one foot in front of the other until I reached my goals: enduring a seven-hour surgery, completing chemo, and returning to running. Happily, I have achieved all my goals. It was a real struggle to start running again, but I’ve made it. Now my goal is to run 50 miles.
My advice to anyone newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer would be to fit your battle with cancer into the context of your life, set a goal, and fight every day until you reach that goal. When you reach that first goal, set another. Attitude is everything!
Lori Llera was diagnosed with stage 3c ovarian cancer one year ago, in January 2022. With the help of God and her family, she blazed her own trail through this terrible disease. Her determination to just keep moving forward became her motto: Just keep moving forward no matter what.
Lori is raising awareness for ovarian cancer on NOCC Team TEAL! To learn more about her upcoming race and donate, visit her fundraising page here.