I Was Healthy, and Then I Wasn't Because of Cancer
“For my entire life, I was healthy, until I was not.” – Denny Dequette, “Grey’s Anatomy”
I heard this quote last night when I was watching the final episode of season two of “Grey’s Anatomy.” It stuck with me because I can relate in so many ways.
In my 24 years of life, I have been extremely healthy. I might have had the occasional episode of flu or bronchitis, and I usually got a cold or two a year, but I have never had anything serious. My visual impairment is the only medical condition or disability I have. The only surgery I underwent was when I was 2-and-a-half years old, and the surgery was to fix the alignment of my eyes. I was young, so I don’t remember that surgery. No big deal.
Until this year.
It started in March. I started to experience almost constant diarrhea. Later that month, I felt like my throat was burning all of the time. I had horrible heartburn after every meal. It did not matter what I ate; it would not stay in my body, and it hurt eating.
The second week of April, I started to feel like there was something moving inside of my stomach every time I moved too quickly. I felt sore and tired every day. In May, I could not eat at all because every time I did, I felt like the food did not belong in my body. I could not get up after eating, so I resorted to eating one meal per 24 hours. And at that point, I have not had my period for the fourth month.
“You are stressed,” doctors told me.
Every symptom had an explanation. Acid reflex, IBS, stress, sprained stomach, stress, weight gain, stress. Oh, and, did I mention stress? I heard I was stressed so many times that I was almost convinced… I said “almost.”
I am the only person who truly knows my body, and a small part of me knew what I was experiencing was not stress. But I truly wished it was as simple as stress. I mean, I was finishing my last semester of grad school, I was looking for jobs, I had a hard time finishing my thesis on time, I was terminating therapy with clients, I had to pack and move back home and I lost my guide dog within a span of days.
Yes, I was stressed. But stress did not give me ovarian cancer and a 25-pound tumor.
According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, the medium age a woman can get this cancer is 63. Most common forms of the cancer occur in women who have had menopause. My particular case is very rare because the cancer began in the cyst, tumor, and not the actual ovary. Most other cancers start in the tissue or the eggs.
Ovarian cancer used to be called the “silent killer,” but according to the OCRA, there have been symptoms identified that help detect this cancer. These symptoms can even help identify stage I cancer.
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms, urgency or frequency
Depending on the type and stage of cancer you have, these symptoms will change in frequency, and more symptoms can show up. These symptoms can also be diagnosed as other, unrelated conditions, so women can be misdiagnosed before they get the right answers.
I had the difficulty eating, fullness, bloating and abdominal pain. I also did not have a period. If only I had known…
The thing is, I had been trying to figure out if I did something wrong. But reading up on the symptoms and risk factors, I realized I did nothing wrong because I simply did not know. I had no risk factors. I have been healthy my entire life. I was physically active. I had a regular period for at least 11 years after I first got it. If it was not for the 25-pound tumor making me look pregnant, we would not have caught it in time.
Fortunately, the cancer was stage 1A, so it was just a cyst before the cancer began to grow. And fortunately, my gynecologist/oncologist surgeon was able to get the entire thing out. I am cancer-cured, for now.
This post is not for pity. It is to educate, because I just did not know myself what was going on. The doctors I trusted to care for me failed. They did not do this on purpose, but I did not have risk factors, so who really knew?
My life has been spent educating people who just do not know, and this is another thing to add to the list. I was fortunate to go home and have my family help me find the right doctors. They did a wonderful job, and I am now in recovery. I will be monitored for the rest of my life, but that means early detection.
And that matters for survival.
I now know what signs and symptoms I can have, and I want others to know as well. Too many women are misdiagnosed like I was, and this can be treated if early detected.
Checkups are important, and they make the difference for prognosis.
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Thinkstock photo by KatarzynaBialasiewicz