Although I am more than a year out from the start of what I used to call “a nightmare,” the time seems to be right to reach out to others. When I was laying in a hospital bed following my surgery I searched the internet for anything I could find that might help me know what comes next, and what my chances were of surviving stage III ovarian cancer. There are not a lot of personal stories out there from ovarian cancer survivors, especially ones that are encouraging. I read comments of some women who were in various stages of recovery, but there was no follow up. I figured they had all died. So, for this reason I am starting this blog. I have been through the diagnosis, the debulking surgery, 18 weeks of chemotherapy and 8 months of recovery and feel I have a handle on what you can expect during this time, although everyone’s experience will differ. I’d love to hear how your own experience differs from mine. As far as the chances of surviving this disease, we will make this journey together in real time, as I add to my blog. But first, the beginning of my interrupted life.
Over the 4th of July holiday weekend in 2017, my brother and I flew to California to spend some time with our sister and brother-in-law. As we are wont to do when we get together, we ate out a lot, and we ate a lot. The first night we got there, we had a late dinner at “The Hat,” and I had a big pastrami burger and fries. This was when my first symptom presented itself–acid reflux. I just couldn’t lay down flat to sleep and tried to prop myself up with pillows. I chalked it up to the later-night eating that I wasn’t used to. We continued to eat great food throughout the four days I was there. I loved it, but the reflux continued and another symptom popped up–constipation. With all that eating I didn’t once have to go. It continued when I got home even though I restarted my normal routine of drinking a fiber beverage each day. At some point during the next two weeks I found myself unable to finish a meal. I was just too stuffed even though I had returned to eating my regular, lower-calorie meals. Red Flag! I love eating and usually can’t get enough! All of these things continued, and piled on top of each other. Even though I was eating much less than usual, my weight was going up. When I started getting the chills and a low grade (99-100 degrees) fever, I searched my symptoms on the internet over and over again. NOT ONCE did ovarian cancer come up. Finally after about 3 weeks, I thought I would go to the store and buy a colon cleanser type drink to really flush out my system. This was on a Saturday, planned that way so I could just sit at home and be ready to go. It worked, but I still felt lousy. Although I was not in pain, I was just miserable. I stayed home from church the next day. Sleeping was beginning to be a real challenge. Late Sunday night, I woke up gasping for breath, and happened to have an oximeter on hand which my late husband had used. I discovered that my oxygen level was below 90. I finally came to the conclusion that something was seriously wrong with me, and knowing that I would not be able to go back to sleep, headed off for the ER at 2:00 AM on July 31, 2017.
When they asked me what the problem was, I said that it felt like I had a bowling ball in my belly. Fortunately, there was only one other person in the ER and I got in right away. They have a whiteboard in each room where they write down information about your caregivers, tests and such. Under the diagnosis was written “rule out bad stuff.” Blood tests were taken, I had a CT scan and then an ultrasound of my abdomen. No waiting! A great time to go to the ER. They figured it out pretty quickly. I felt bad for the very nice lady ER doctor who had to tell me that it was “probably” ovarian cancer and they were setting up an appointment for me the following day with a great gynecological oncologist who would do the surgery. Strangely enough, my initial reaction was not one of fear or crying. Years prior, when I had a daughter at home and was called in for a repeat mammogram because of changes in the results, I completely freaked out. The difference was that now, my daughter was grown and married, and my husband had passed away 6 months prior to my diagnosis. There was no one depending upon me for survival. One of my first thoughts was that after arriving in the next life, my husband petitioned the powers that be for my expedited return since he just can’t survive without a woman at his side. Thanks a lot!
My next blog will focus on the appointment with the surgeon, my subsequent reactions and the waiting time before the surgery. Thanks for joining me!