Being Diagnosed With Ovarian Cancer Before My 28th Birthday
I remember as if it was yesterday, heading to bed after a long day of work, having what I thought was my typical bad PMS acting up again. I checked my calendar and my “Period Tracker” app, only to discover I still had a week and a half to go. Needless to say, I found it odd, but didn’t question it. My periods were always a few weeks off, and when they came, they came with a vengeance. I popped some Tylenol, gave my boyfriend, RJ, a kiss, and called it a night. I worked the next day and needed my hours, so no way was I letting this get the best of me.
It’s just cramps.
At 3 am I experienced a horrible pain in my lower abdomen, it was as if someone was making balloon animals out of what I naively thought was my appendix. I made myself a hot bath to soothe my stomach, but the pain was so bad my body went into shock. I felt so cold in a hot bath.
RJ woke up and saw me curled up in the bathtub in a fetal position, he wanted me to call 911 because this was not my typical PMS. We must have argued back and forth for what seemed like forever about calling an ambulance. I had to work in a few hours, plus, why would I waste time getting help for period cramps? Imagine the medical bills for something like this, even though it was the worst pain in my life.
RJ dialed the phone and passed it on to me as I explained what was going on. I was then whisked away to Dr. Philip’s Medical Center, where it was discovered that the culprit of the pain was my left ovary. They said there was a golf-sized tumor growing on it, and if I had gone to work that day, it could have burst and I could have died.
They needed to get the tumor out fast, and they warned that in addition to the tumor, my ovary had to be removed, too. I never felt so scared. This was less than six months living away from my family, RJ being the only person I had close to me.
I remember waking up with a catheter, as well as a bunch of staples in my lower abdomen. The doctor came in and told me the tumor size was wrong at triage, it was actually the size of a grapefruit, and because of it’s size, they also had to remove my left fallopian tube.
My first thought was that I had become half a woman. But despite that odd feeling, I was thankful to be alive.
A few weeks later, the lab confirmed it was a malignant tumor, early onset ovarian cancer. I was thankful it had not ruptured. The average age of diagnosis is 63 — at the time, I was a few days shy of my 28th birthday.
Although it is uncommon to be diagnosed so young, it is a grim reality. Usually treatment would consist of chemotherapy and laser surgery to keep the cysts and tumors at bay. But since they removed the source of the problem and the surrounding area, the cancer was gone, and about a month and a half later, I was back to work. I have been going for yearly checkups the last four years and I have been cancer free.
Since then, those painful periods began to subside, my cycle became more regular, and the cramps that would confine me to bed for days became mostly a thing of the past. I was told I could still have children but it will be a tough process, which isn’t a top priority for me right now, but good to know for the future.
So basically I was a ticking time-bomb years before landing in the hospital. I knew something was up, but I wasn’t the kind of person to run to the doctor. Insurance is expensive and I went without it up until I got Medicaid, and even that became hard to use since not many doctors take it, and many of those doctors aren’t accessible in public transit.
Health became a bottom priority over work and paying my bills.
I guess the most important lesson was learning to take care of myself. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Even ovarian cancer. It’s best to get checked often. Many free clinics and Planned Parenthood offer screenings. Your life matters over anything else. The bills and adulting can wait, your life can’t. If you show signs of irregular periods, frequent cramps and abdominal pain, loss of appetite, frequent urination, indigestion, weight loss and changes in bowel movements, please consult a doctor. Although you think it might be nothing, it could be something you never imagined. Always play it safe.
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Thinkstock image by AndreyPopov