I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in December of 2017. I had been having bladder and gastrointestinal problems for years and months, respectively. My stomach sporadically swelled up to where I looked pregnant until it remained permanently like that. A 51-year old looking pregnant!
When I finally was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I looked it up, and bingo, all my symptoms made sense. Like a case study in ovarian cancer symptoms! I had an oophorectomy, then had to wait six weeks for the full kit and kaboodle surgery. For six weeks, I figured I was stage III. Because by the time OC symptoms normally present themselves, it’s often late. But lo and behold, I was Stage I. Turns out the type of cancer I had, Endrometrioid ovarian cancer, is often caught earlier and younger.
All good, right? Well, exactly 2 years later, I felt a breast lump. Bam! Stage II breast cancer. (So strange to me to now, to have cancer that didn’t have symptoms beforehand.) I just got right down to practicalities – what do I have to do? Maybe because it was my second time around with cancer, or maybe because it didn’t feel like the death sentence the ovarian cancer diagnosis seemed, but I got right down to work. It turns out that breast cancer was to be much more challenging and extensive than my ovarian cancer treatment. At first, I was told I’d have a lumpectomy followed by six weeks of radiation. Okay, I thought, I can do that. And then, a final pathology result came in, and everything changed. HER2 is a protein found overexpressed in less than 20% of BC tumors. That, on top of hormone-positive receptors, meant my stage II cancer was very aggressive. Then followed 26 chemo and targeted treatments, 25 radiation treatments, and umpteen procedures for 15 months. Finally, oh happy day, on April 26, 2021, I will be considered cancer-free.
What do I have to say on the matter? I’m glad it’s almost over. I’m not one of those people who will tell you that cancer changed my life for the better. (I already had my priorities straight!). But I did come into a community of women who I would never have met otherwise. I’m grateful; so many of these women are now my friends. I also came out of this with new respect and appreciation for technology and science. It’s amazing what they can do nowadays! And last, I had so many opportunities to attend free seminars, dinners, receive gift packages, makeup sessions, complementary treatments, wig sessions, hairdressers who refused to accept payment, and so, so much more. There are truly giving people out there. I feel I can’t repay them all, but I pay it forward when I can.
YOU know your body better than anyone. Trust your instincts. For two years leading up to the diagnosis, I kept gaining weight, about 30 pounds. I KNEW I wasn’t doing anything differently; I was exercising and eating the same. I mentioned it to doctors, but for all, they knew I was at home chowing down on French fries and ice cream sundaes. Consequently, my blood pressure went up, and I was tired.
While this may be a blog on ovarian cancer patients, I’ve met several OC patients who also have BC. I was taught to do breast exams in the shower, not that I really did that much. My lump showed up when I was lying on my back one night in bed. I didn’t feel it after that. But a month later, I felt it again while in bed. Off to get a mammogram. After diagnosis, my surgeon and I did a test. When I was lying down, we could feel it. When I was standing up, it descended and couldn’t be felt. So my advice? Do breast exams on your back as well as in the shower.
Patricia is a part of our NOCC Pittsburgh Chapter.