Editors note: This is Divnah's story - the tenth in a series that I have called "Cancer - Your Story". I know I keep promoting the power of Twitter but here is another example of extended networks. I didn't know Divnah until she contacted me at the beginning of June after seeing one of the 'Cancer - Your Story' links tweeted out by a mutual Twitter contact. She emailed me and offered to share her story.
If you are interested in sharing your story please click on the link and contact me.
Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt - Pink Sherbert Photography
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When you are open your eyes in a hospital bed and are surrounded by your family and friends and they are all crying you know something is wrong. You know it is cancer.Author’s note: Thank you to Nickie for raising cancer awareness and allowing me to share my story. My story is nothing compared to what she must have gone through seeing her daughter diagnosed and I am thankful her daughter is grown and well now. Together we show cancer is not always a death sentence.
I was 30 when it started. I was feeling run down and exhausted, just not myself. Eventually I went to the General Practitioner (GP) complaining that I just wasn't well. Low iron she said, and stress. But that wasn’t the case. Three months later my stomach had swollen and I looked five months pregnant. An ultrasound revealed not a baby but a tumour the size of a football (literally!) on one of my ovaries. Oh sure the technicians don’t tell you that but they act strange and give you an envelope full of scans with a sticker that says, “Only to be opened by referring doctor” — as if! I ripped it open the minute I got back to my car and burst into tears.
My GP immediately referred me to gynecological oncologist who scheduled surgery for four days later. Later I laughed because I asked her if I could delay this a month as I had a Swiss ski trip planned! She responded, “We can’t wait a week”. The surgeon said that since I was so young the tumour might not be proper cancer but that it was a strong possibility. There is no screening test for ovarian cancer and it can’t be diagnosed until surgery. I had to wait.
Those four days were the very worst of my whole life. There is something terrifying about knowing that you have a tumour, one that could kill you, growing inside you and there is nothing you can do but wait, and worry. I imagine it to be the opposite of the joy and wonder pregnant women feel. Until then I’d always been healthy so even the concept of surgery was scary. I wrote a will, made a list of all my bank accounts and passwords, and wrote farewell letters to family and close friends all convinced I might die on the table.
My surgeon (a darling!) said if it went well the whole thing would take about 1.5 hours so when I woke up in recovery and saw that more than 6 hours had passed I knew the news wasn’t good. Back in my hospital room I saw my family and friends in tears and I knew it was definitely bad.
The surgeon came to talk to me the next day and I'll never forget his words: "It WAS cancer but I got it all. You'll have to have chemo but we're talking about a cure." Somehow in that single sentence he managed to put cancer in the past and give me hope for the future. Suddenly even though I had cancer it wasn’t as scary as I’d anticipated. All I heard was the word “cure”.
My treatment involved two surgeries and 6 months of chemo plus a good year or so of recovery. Treatment wasn’t as difficult as predicted (I didn’t even throw up!) and I figure if I can cope with cancer I can cope with anything. Plus I got to watch all 7 seasons of the West Wing in one hit! And The West Wing is such a good show that it is almost worth getting cancer for, almost. In fact, other than the pain & fatigue associated with chemo I had a pretty nice 6 months just relaxing with family and friends, wearing funky pink wigs and using cancer as my excuse for pretty much everything I didn't want to do, like washing up! For me humour was a big part of coping. I laughed a lot at my crazy chemo brain and even coined a new term "tumour humour".
It’s been two years now and I am still in remission and still having 12 week check ups. Cancer has definitely left its mark. I take better care of myself now and I am reminded of the value of life. It has also left a negative mark: I am no longer able to have biological children. This was, and remains, painful to accept. My greatest fear was always that I would not be able to have healthy children and this being reality is something to which I am only slowly adjusting. It is still hard to see pregnant people and mothers and babies but it is getting easier and I do have the option of donor eggs or adoption.
Ovarian cancer has quiet symptoms, weight loss or gain, stomach upsets etc so most women aren’t diagnosed until quite late. As a result 8/10 of women diagnosed are dead inside five years. I am thankful to be one of the lucky ones but I can’t help wishing they’d found it that little bit earlier and preserved my fertility. My message for readers is this: know the symptoms (more in this blog post - "This One Time I Had Cancer") and if you don’t feel well make ensure the doctors check you properly for all possibilities not just the most likely. In most cases it won’t be cancer but it is better to be sure. And finally, appreciate your children.