My very complicated health journey starts at a young age. By the time I was in my late teens I was diagnosed with endometriosis, PCOS, and Calcium renal calculus (calcium kidney stones). Between my doctors and myself, we tried countless options to relieve and heal my never-ending symptoms.
In 2012, my brother and I were in a life-altering car accident. Our vehicle rolled 6 times at 65 mph, me being ejected from the car by the second roll, and thrown 60 yards from the scene. This left me with a broken foot, ripped and torn muscles everywhere, broken skin, broken ribs, chipped bones, torn tendons in my thumb, and a Traumatic Brain Injury. Due to my previous health conditions, this exacerbated everything.
Fast forward to 2017, I married the love of my life of 7 years. I was always told that getting pregnant would be near impossible due to my health, but we were determined to try. Through our local fertility center, I underwent countless procedures, tests, and medications to prepare my body for pregnancy. And it worked! We were expecting our first bundle of joy by January 2019. Elated was an understatement. We couldn’t help but prep and prep early, setting up their room and “nesting” like crazy. And 14 weeks later, my whole world shattered. I miscarried. And honestly? My heart couldn’t take the loss. I tried to pass our miscarriage naturally and could not do it, physically OR emotionally. A D&C was performed and once I was back home from the hospital, depression washed over me. It wasn’t until the beginning of 2020 that we were ready to try all over. Following the same fertility support from 2018, we did it! Another miracle! We were pregnant with a beautiful, healthy baby.
My pregnancy, like everyone’s, was different. Distinguishing problems that should’ve been alarming were masked by symptoms of my previous health issues, chronic pain and just being pregnant. Everything inside and outside your body changes dramatically while carrying an angel. I went into our doctor’s office one day with complaints about my upper right side hurting. An ultrasound was done and there was a 2 mm mass found on my right ovary. “Cysts are often formed during pregnancy, it’s nothing to worry about.” A couple of months later, I ended up in the ER with horrible pain in the exact same spot. The same mass was found, now close to 7 mm, but my pain was labeled as kidney stones and I was sent home.
This pain continued for a couple of weeks until I couldn’t take it anymore and my husband took me to the ER once again. The ultrasound now showed the “cyst”, now tumor, at 10 mm, and I was being ambulanced down to a local hospital with a NICU unit just in case. Once we were inside, everything happened so fast. I was going in for emergency major abdominal surgery and that’s all I knew. I woke up after a 5-hour surgery with no right ovary or fallopian tube, a piece cut off of my colon, and hooked up to blood transfusions. My ovary disintegrated in my doctor’s hand during the removal of the tumor, and my son and I almost bled out on the operating table. I had 40 staples covering my pregnant belly. But the worst is over, right?
My 12-day hospital stay is a blur of beeping monitors, blood draws, medications, HGTV, and debilitating sickness. My dear husband had to do everything. I had an ileus on my stomach so I couldn’t eat. I wasn’t allowed to drink. I couldn’t leave the bed when I got sick. I was puking bags a day. I couldn’t shower or go to the bathroom without help. It was humiliating and I wasn’t healing. 10 days into our 5-star vacation, I woke up with intense pain in my lower back. I chopped it up to being bedridden all this time and didn’t think more of it. But over the next 6 hours, I was writhing in pain. I could not lay down, move, go to the bathroom or even cry, I was in so much pain. None of us knew what to do. Finally, my nurses called in an OBGYN to see if I was having Braxton Hicks contractions. The second she examined me she said, “Okay Briauna, we’re going to have a baby right now. You are 10 cm dilated and we need to rush you to NICU.” Having a baby?! I’m 28 weeks pregnant. What do you mean? The thoughts running through my head are unexplainable. Pure fear.
Within 20 minutes, my angel rainbow baby Apollo was born naturally and unmedicated with the help of my husband and our amazing doctors. I was surprised how intimate our birth was even as an anxiety-ridden emergency. My doctor told Dillon to scrub up and he participated in the entire labor and delivery. My son was immediately sent through the NICU window, I got nothing but a passing glance of this boy who not only saved my life but is the love of my life. The millisecond I laid eyes on him in my doctor’s hands I fell in love. We had another problem though. My placenta was not coming out, and I was bleeding bad yet again. My doctor instantly started the process for a D&C and again, I woke up hours later attached to a blood infusion, and my son nowhere in sight. My placenta started dying, and I almost bled out during the removal. I didn’t get to see him for 9 hours after our birth. The second our nurse and Dillon could help me into a wheelchair, we rushed to the NICU.
There he was, my son. Apollo Ryan. 2 lb 13oz of pure joy. We couldn’t hold him, but lay our hands on him gently. And we did as long as we could. Preemie babies can’t be held or touched for too long due to the sensitivity of their skin and nervous system which was so hard. I was wheeled back to my room to try and heal as fast as possible from this birth and additional surgery. Two days later, they were prepping me to go home. I was elated and heartbroken. I had been there so sick for so long and just wanted to go home, but I knew my son wasn’t going to be able to come with me.
My doctor solemnly came into my room, and my gut was immediately in a knot. My intuition was screaming! Girl, take deep breaths, and prepare. I knew something was wrong, and the doctor grabbed my hand and kneeled on the ground. “We got the results back from the tumor. Briauna I’m sorry, you have ovarian cancer.” We paused. Tears were swollen in my eyes, “How am I going to tell him?” Were the only words that formed out of my mouth. How was I going to tell my husband and partner of 10 years that I have cancer? After almost dying on the operating table twice, 4 blood transfusions, unmedicated natural labor, our beautiful firstborn son in the NICU, 12 days of not healing from surgery, my husband and nurses having to do EVERYTHING for me, and now cancer. And telling him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
So, I have cancer. But life doesn’t stop. We made trips daily to the NICU to spend every moment possible with our son. One day we came into the hospital for my 40 abdominal staples to be removed before we visited our son. I had appointments constantly at the same hospital so it was easy to plan our time around him. Besides, he quite literally is the center of our world.
The staple removal was not nearly as bad as I expected! Until we reached the bottom part of my incision. From pushing so hard during my emergency labor, my bottom 6 staples did not heal and I had a giant open wound staring back at me. Pissed is an understatement. This was just one more problem to add to my list. I needed constant in-home room care for wound dressings and once a week we were back at the hospital having the wound doctor check, clean, measure, and bandage my giant open portal to my body. On top of it all, I needed a wound vac to increase my healing time because my oncologist would not start my chemotherapy until I was healed. This is basically a tube vacuum sealed on top of your wound and it continuously sucks drainage and promotes tissue healing. But it is a decent size machine constantly connected to your body, makes noise, and gets snagged on everything! UGH! The Vac was just an insult to injury and by far the most annoying part of this intense healing process. Even though I hated the thing, It worked. I was off of the vacuum and almost completely healed before my first treatment on 10/19/2020.
They tell you don’t get your hopes up. Don’t expect anything out of the “norm”. Plan on your son coming home on his due date at the earliest. My boy doesn’t conform to rules though. At 2 months 3 weeks old, weighing 5lbs 4oz and 52 days in the NICU, we graduated on 10.18.2020! Exactly 1 month before his due date. What a gift, my first round of chemotherapy is in the morning and my whole support team will be home. This was the best present any mom with cancer could ask for. I was able to spend all night with my firstborn and then come home to him after one of the hardest doctor’s appointments in my life. And he’s been my anti-anxiety for every treatment and appointment since.
I type this during my fourth round of chemo with cheez its, a Diet Coke, and a positive attitude. I have 100% laid a base of the Law of Attraction and great energy for this cancer experience. I have applied the LOA in my life since I was 12, and now more than ever. “Positive thoughts, positive feelings.” has been my personal mantra for as long as I can remember. I wish I could properly explain how seriously powerful not only you are, but the Law of Attraction is. I use it in my life every single day. I manifest every single day. I ground myself and repeat affirmations every single day. And kids, it works. Don’t knock it until you try it! If you are reading this story, please let me recommend “The Secret” By Rhonda Byrnes. I consider The Secret a life-changing key in the shape of a book. This is how my family and I live our life.
Ovarian cancer has taught me the fragility of life, but not in a negative way. In a way that forces gratefulness. It reminds you of the importance of family. It reminds me to pick my battles. It has taught me not to hang up my phone without saying I love you. It has taught me that this is hard for more people than just me. It taught me to stand up and advocate for myself, to love with all my heart, and to spend as much time as I can with my family. That material things are just material. That hair is just hair. That all my emotions are valid. That it is okay to say no. That it’s okay to have hard conversations. Cancer has shown me how strong my marriage is. Most of all, ovarian cancer has taught me to trust the universe. To live my life honestly and full of love.
Briauna and her husband Dillon thrive as first-time parents to their beautiful son Apollo born at 28 weeks. Her husband, son, two dogs Milly and Alabama, and cat Ridley live in Park City, Utah. Briauna finds happiness in working with crystals and positive energy. She shares her unique journey with Stage III ovarian cancer and preemie parenting on Instagram at @briaunanoel.