In 2023, about 19,710 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to the American Association for Cancer Research. I won’t mention the downside of this statistic, but the numbers aren’t overwhelmingly in our favor. I don’t particularly like stats, and now that I have faced this diagnosis, I purposely don’t check them. I had to do that for this article, but I don’t recommend it.
The moment of diagnosis is poignant and alarming. You will never forget where you were and who you were with. When someone tells you “You have ovarian cancer,” it seems unreal — a distortion of time and space. In my case, it was in the emergency room (ER) with my decade-long partner, Bud. The ER physician was a young woman, and I could tell it was especially difficult for her to mouth those words.
After more than two weeks and visits to urgent care and the women’s clinic, along with giving myself a bowel prep to see if it changed the bloating and constipation, there were still no answers. I had an appointment with my general practitioner that day, but the pain and pressure were getting to me. I had been a nurse for 35 years, and I just knew I needed a CT scan, so I went to the ER.
When the doctor broke the news to us, Bud choked up and began to silently cry. I just stared at her and said, “OK.” She immediately mentioned that a member of the local women’s clinic was in-house, and she would send him to talk to me. “You don’t seem to be very upset,” she said. I didn’t know how to respond other than “Well … I guess someone has to get it.”
“What a dumb thing,” I thought to myself. I had never in my 55 years on this planet imagined that I would be a cancer patient. Huh.
What great luck, in retrospect, that the gynecologist was in the house that day. He told me that a fantastic gynecologist-oncologist had just relocated from California and still had room for new patients. He would set me up to see her that week.
I also had to make an appointment to drain the fluid that had accumulated in my abdomen. I had rapidly gained 4 pounds and expanded so quickly that I had stretch marks. The pressure was severe. This was a Thursday, and I would have to wait until Monday for the draining.
The CT scan showed multiple, massive infiltrations of tumors throughout my abdomen. The fluid came as a byproduct of the tumors, which had caused me to blow up. First, I noticed my belly button starting to protrude. I thought maybe it was a simple umbilical hernia, but then it kept going. I felt like Violet from “Willy Wonka.” Normally, a woman might have about 20 milliliters of fluid in the peritoneal cavity. (The peritoneum is a sheet of smooth tissue that surrounds the organs in the abdomen.) The next Monday, they drained 4,000 milliliters from my abdomen. The procedure hurt worse than I thought it would, but man, did it relieve the pressure.
That weekend was one of the worst I’d had since my father died when I was 15. I had to call all my friends and family and break the news. It was surreal: I had cancer. Even with the Ativan I was prescribed for anxiety, I couldn’t sleep. I just cried and prayed. I pleaded to God and my guardian angels to surround me with love and give me hope. It was terrifying. I felt so hopeless: “God, I don’t want to die.” I had children and grandchildren. But then, there are thousands upon thousands of us. None of us want to go so soon. Coping had just begun, and it was going to be a long and rocky road.
It was recently the second anniversary of my diagnosis, and I am miraculously finding myself in remission for the time being. Here is the truth: I am not a statistic. I am not a number. I am a person that has to live with the threat of cancer, but there are methods of dealing with that shocking reality. If I have a slight percent chance of survival, then I still have a chance of survival. Someone has to make up that small percentage, and I hope and pray that it will include me.
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.