Having Ovarian Cancer Completely Changed My Perspective on Life

I am a busy mom of three kids (ages 6, 12 and 14). I had turned 40, played soccer with my husband’s co-ed team and ran my dog daily. I’d just published two historical romance novels. Life was good even though I teetered on the edge of a mid-life crisis.

I first noticed I had to suck in to zip my skinny jeans. Hmmm… I was getting heavier. I upped my sit ups. Then I got a sporadic pain in my right side which went on for about a month. During soccer I was hit in the hand and thought it was broken. While my nurse practitioner checked my wrist, I mentioned the bloating and pain. She did a quick feel of my abdomen.

Her brows wrinkled. “I need to do a pelvic exam.”

“For a broken hand?” I teased.

“Something’s not right.”

“I’m seeing my GYN next month for my annual. It can wait.”

“No, it can’t.” She wouldn’t let me leave. She saved my life.

Her exam and then follow-up scans and surgery a week later found ovarian cancer spreading rapidly through my abdomen. Because of her, that soccer kick, and doctors moving fast, we caught it at stage IIc.

After three weeks of recovery from my remove-everything surgery, I began 15 months of chemo. My last infusion was in August 2012. I would have partied but I was busy being passed out on my couch. So we partied the next night — ice cream and cake for everyone! I started six months of recovery the next day, growing back my nerves, detoxing, and learning to move my beaten body again.

Heather McCollum in hospital

Those years were the hardest of my life. I lost my hair, taste buds, size 6, and for a while, my hope. I couldn’t write because I only write happy endings, and during that time I couldn’t imagine any. The only things I wanted to read or write had to do with how I was going to beat this beast.

But you know what? Those years were also the best of my life.

Heather McCollum in blue

The pain and fear I could do without, but the love poured out on my family was humbling and revealed the beauty in the human spirit like I’ve never seen before. I learned to watch nature and smell not just one flower but all of them, one by one.

We started the “SHOUT Against the Whisper!” campaign to warn women about the whispered symptoms of ovarian cancer. I will SHOUT until every woman knows that a pap smear doesn’t detect OC. We educated women at the Raleigh Southern Women’s Show, handing out thousands of symptom cards and urging at least three women to see their doctors. It filled our spirits and touched so many lives.

Heather McCollum boxing gloves

Cancer has totally changed my perspectives. When I turned 40 I was sad and I cringed whenever I saw an elderly woman, despising what I was destined to become. When I turned 41, I celebrated living another year. I now look at an elderly woman and smile, wishing desperately one day to be just like her.

I’ve found my hope and started writing again. Although I have more books contracted in the romance genre (the second in my “Highland Hearts” series coming out in January 2014), I plan to also write several non-fiction books on surviving crises. One book will be “A Wuss’s Guide to Chemo” since I was phobic of needles when all this started. I’ve had 91 sticks since and hardly flinch now. Another perk of cancer!

Heather McCollum with laptop in hospital

I’ve been tracking cancer “perks.” People laughed about: my ability to wear strange hats and earrings and still get complements, getting out of playing putt-putt golf, and getting a “by” when I forget an appointment due to chemo brain.

Laughing helps.

Cancer is a bully. If we cower in the corner we help it win. But if we tell the proper authorities (doctors), stand up to it, laugh at it, and use weapons like healthy foods and positive affirmations, we swing the odds in our favor.

I will do everything not to leave my kids without a mom and my husband without a wife. I will continue to fight, continue to laugh, continue to sit and experience life. Without those years and all their lessons, I would have merely lived. Now I thrive!

This post was originally published on HeatherMcCollum.com.

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