Prior to my diagnosis of Serous Ovarian Cancer, Stage III C, I recall having symptoms for about two years that things were not quite right: chief of which was an irregular, heavy menstrual cycle that I kept brushing aside as “nothing”. I convinced myself that I didn’t have time to go to the doctor for such a benign issue. I always had a history of irregular periods (so nothing alarming there) and life is so incredibly busy — I was 39, young, healthy, active lifestyle — what could possibly be wrong?
When I finally did see my gynecologist, they discovered a mass over ultrasound, but I was reassured not to worry because it could be a cyst or fibroids. My doctor suggested that if I was done having children, a partial hysterectomy may be a good idea and during the procedure, they would biopsy the mass, not because it looked suspicious, but because that was the protocol. I was considering the option, but truthfully not entirely persuaded it was necessary when one day I was quite literally brought to my knees in agonizing pain.
I scheduled the partial hysterectomy for February 16, 2018, and the entire procedure was to take no more than a few hours, start to finish. Over eight hours later, I woke up in a recovery room where I was informed that the surgeon was forced to do a full radical hysterectomy. The biopsy revealed that my mass was cancerous and the cancer cells had spread to other parts of my reproductive system. The words that will forever be engraved in me were those of the gynecological oncologist who explained how lucky I was and that had I waited any longer, I “likely wouldn’t have made it and this story would have a very different ending.”
The diagnosis and surgery were my first encounter with this new, unwelcome reality; I still had another frightening and uncertain road ahead with my chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Because my cancer spread to the lymph nodes, I had to undergo 6 weeks of daily radiation, simultaneous with 6 rounds of what they called “light chemo” followed by another 6 rounds of heavier chemo. “Standard,” my medical team said, but nothing about having cancer was standard or easy and nothing prepares you for the mental, emotional and physical warfare.
There were many tear-filled days when I wanted to give up; when I felt like the treatment was too harsh and far worse than the diagnosis itself, but then you look at your army of loved ones surrounding you, praying for you and cheering you on. For me, it was a village of friends, my husband and my two little girls, who were only 8 and 10, and you think: How can you give up? How can you leave this behind? Even though I am a woman of faith, it was difficult, at times, to remain faithful in my brokenness. I quickly realized, however, that I couldn’t underestimate my God-given strength and it was that divine strength and grace that made me whole again.
It’s called the silent killer, but I don’t think that’s quite true – ovarian cancer speaks to you in a quiet whisper over time; you just need to listen to the tell-tale signs of your body. Today, I have been in remission for over two years. I am completely healthy and I am grateful, beyond measure, for the extra time I’ve been gifted to be with my family, to watch my girls grow, and to savor every wonderful and incredible moment that this life has to offer.
Mary Maikhail currently lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and two daughters; she manages a family practice of medicine and recently started an IG page: @marymaikhail, where she documents stunning life moments that make her feel happy, grateful, and blessed.