It Took Awhile, but I Learned to View My Cancer as a Blessing
Today is a blessing.
This morning I woke up a 20-year survivor of ovarian cancer. I was diagnosed when I was 19-years-old. Before then I’d never heard of ovarian cancer, but I knew something was wrong. I knew my stomach growth, leg and abdominal pain and sudden lactose intolerance could not be normal. When I finally ended up in the emergency room the words “ovarian cancer” became my new reality.
I was extremely lucky.
Although I had surgery to remove what turned out to be a 15-pound tumor and what was left of my right ovary, I did not have to receive chemotherapy or any further intervention. The cancer was contained inside the tumor.
What I quickly learned was that sometimes the emotional healing is a far bigger task than the physical healing. It took several weeks, but my body eventually stopped aching. My 13-inch scar healed, and I was remembering what it was like to be “normal” again.
It took many years to get over the emotional pain.
At 19 my fertility was in question, and my family and friends were at a loss at how to cope with a teenage cancer patient. I had to learn a quick lesson in dealing with emergency surgery bills without having health insurance. It was a lonesome, scary time for myself and those who loved me.
I mostly had the constant worry of recurrence. Would the cancer come back? Would I catch it in time? Would I be so “lucky” again? After all the financial concerns, was I worth saving if it happened again? At age 19 I was having to think about mortality and what my funeral might look like. Only three months later, I met my future husband. As the relationship became serious, I had to let him know I could be barren. The cancer could come back. I could not be worth his time and future.
Cancer has the ability to really mess with a person’s head. Until you walk in cancer’s shoes, it’s impossible to imagine what thoughts and feelings might torment you. Over time I worked through it. My diagnosis came before the internet was widely available, (can you imagine?!) so I spent a lot of time in libraries researching this disease. I sought out local support groups. But since ovarian cancer is much more common in older women, I didn’t find any peers I could bond with so I continued to feel very alone.
Eventually, I went to work at an oncology center and got involved in cancer activism. I also created my own “Ovarian Cancer Awareness and Support” Facebook page. The group is made up of survivors and fighters of all ages, from all over the world. We help each other.
Cancer, for me, meant a future in advocacy, support, knowledge and spiritual self-improvement. It took a long time to get here, but the struggle was worth the outcome.
Photo credit: Jim Feng/Getty Images