Being healthy my whole life, I was not in the habit of noticing small changes in my body that were somewhat vague. I’ve always been the picture of health — so much so that rarely did even the common cold invade my system. Common pain relievers such as Tylenol and Advil were not in my medicine cabinet because I rarely got headaches or slight ailments. So, going from zero to a hundred in terms of illness was a colossal shock to my mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Ovarian cancer snuck in quietly, whispering so faintly that I gave it no attention.
The first sign of anything slightly amiss occurred in early 2016. I was 55 years old, living by myself in my home of 20-something years, and getting ready for bed. Getting out of the shower and throwing on some pajamas, I jumped into bed and was surprised at the oddest sensation of water “sloshing” in my abdomen. It was like there was an empty space where water was filling up. Strange, but nothing to worry about, I was sure. As women, we are told that strange things will happen around menopausal age, so I guessed that was one small, interesting change.
In August of the same year, my stepson was to be married, so off I went to buy a new dress. Oddly, I was not fitting into my usual size 8 but instead a size 12. I looked a bit more plump, but again, I chalked it up to menopause. During this time period, I went for my annual checkup with my OB-GYN. With no symptoms to report and mistakenly thinking that all female cancers would be screened at this routine visit, I believed the letter that came in the mail weeks later and said that everything was normal.
In November 2016, I was in especially good spirits. My first grandchild, Dylan Paul, was born to my son and his fiancee. The new caretaking role was going to be just what I wanted — excitement, a renewed sense of purpose, and overwhelming joy were just beginning!
This was a good time to continue my own good health practices, and I had a rigorous workout at my gym on a Saturday morning. As I made my way into the locker room for a quick change of clothes, I suddenly doubled over in pain. What could this be? The pain was so intense, like a knot being tied in my stomach with full force, that it took my breath away — and it wasn’t subsiding. It was intense and unrelenting for over 20 minutes. I needed to get some help, but where would I go? Maybe an urgent care center, I thought, since it was the weekend.
After some time passed, I was able to drive myself the few miles I needed to get there, but by the time I arrived, the pain had vanished. I felt ridiculous telling the nurse that I had had some pain an hour ago but it went away. She told me that there was nothing they could do and to call my doctor.
The pain did not return, so I decided it was just a weird happenstance and didn’t call my doctor for what I knew would be a three-week waiting period. Then, in late December, it happened again, this time at my son’s house, after a visit with him and the baby. The abdominal pain hit hard — intense and unrelenting, just as it was a month previous. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t stand up straight, and I was in near tears, so my son rushed me back to the same urgent care clinic. Again, by the time I arrived, the pain was gone and there was nothing they could do except advise me to call my doctor.
By now, a nagging, persistent stomachache was an ongoing issue for me. It was uncomfortable but manageable as I went about my day-to-day work and home projects.
On January 9, 2017, while preparing for a flight from Sacramento, California, to Los Angeles, I threw my suitcase in the car and ran back into the house for a quick glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee. I took a sip of orange juice and felt a sharp pain hit my stomach. Same with the coffee. “Maybe I have an ulcer,” I thought.
This time, I knew I had to get to the bottom of these accumulating symptoms. After I flew home from the five-day work trip, I drove straight to the emergency room. It took several hours and a few tests, but finally, two doctors showed up at my bedside with mournful looks and informed me that a large mass was detected in my abdomen. They couldn’t be certain what the mass meant but informed me that a trip to my OB-GYN was imperative.
Because it was Friday night, I had to wait until Monday morning to deliver the images to her office for interpretation: ovarian cancer, stage 3C.
MyOvarianCancerTeam members discuss ovarian cancer from a specific point of view. Members’ articles don’t reflect the opinions of MyOvarianCancerTeam staff, medical experts, partners, advertisers, or sponsors. MyOvarianCancerTeam content isn’t intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.