Survivor Stories — Nancy Biba
I Thought It Was Just a Cough
The Beginning of My Journey
By: Nancy Biba
It was like any other week busy working and doing projects around the house. I was in the midst of replacing all the old, smelly ceiling tiles in the basement when I developed a cough. I wasn't alarmed, at first, because I am prone to bronchitis and I didn't wear a mask when pulling all that crap down. I went to my primary care physician (PCP) who continually treated me for "chronic bronchitis" and allergens to the dust particles from the tiles. I was on a few rounds of antibiotics, inhalers and prednisone from October thru December. As soon as the prednisone wore off, I was back to this weird cough. My PCP told me the shortness of breath and cough could take until the spring to clear up. I was not happy with his diagnosis so I made an appointment with my mother's pulmonologist. For those of you that don't know, my mother passed away 2+ years ago. I am not a very religious person BUT a very spiritual person. I have a gift of connecting with the after life and I believe my Mom knew her baby of 6 was suffering from cancer and she needed to get a message to me. I got the message loud and clear.
I was able to confirm an appointment with my Mom's doctor the end of the month. As soon as the physician’s assistant heard my ongoing issues she immediately sent me for a CT Scan of my chest.
Low and behold, although the CT, itself, was normal the radiologist noted a "small amount of free fluid" in my upper abdomen. I was told that you should have no fluid in your upper abdomen. There are very select reasons why fluid would be present. The fluid is called "ascites". Although I had no symptoms other then a cough, I knew from that moment something was seriously wrong. I became my own advocate and demanded my PCP send me for further testing. Ascites only shows up for certain reasons and I knew that I did not suffer from liver disease so the only thing left was ovarian cancer!!!! Within the same week, I had a CT Scan of my chest, followed by an abdominal, pelvic and trans-vaginal ultrasound! BAM - the problem lied in my ovaries. This is where it gets very interesting; more then one radiologist read my films and only one of the four had an accurate diagnosis. The other three were completely off the mark reading my cancerous tumor as a "benign hemorrhagic cyst". That was their explanation as to why a 51 year old’s ovary was enlarged. An average ovary should measure no larger then 2.5 cm. My right ovary measured 4X the normal size and the "so called cyst" was larger then the ovary. I never felt a thing. Your pelvic region can withstand quite a bit. I am a thin woman, therefore, I thought I would have felt something. From this point, I now had to go for a CT Scan of my pelvic and abdomen region. That is when my life changed forever. "Extensive fluid over the region of liver with mass in right ovary; malignancy suspected".
I took the results of my CT Scan to my gynecologist, who I have been going to for years. Ends up, he has no bedside manner AT ALL. He sits at his desk and tells me "Good luck, you have a 50/50 chance of having cancer so I want you to go see this gynecologist oncologist (gyn-onc) that I highly recommend and you can only get in by referral". He shakes my hand and says they will call you on Monday and get you in next week for a consult following up the next week with a hysterectomy. I now agonize all weekend waiting for this phone call. In the meantime, I was researching other doctors, as gyn-oncs are not easy to come by because it is such a specialty. I was told of a doctor at MD Anderson Cancer Center/Cooper. I kept that in the back of my mind all weekend.
Monday, January 18th, was finally here. The phone call comes in from this "highly recommended" doctor. The office rep tells me "although your case is a concern to the doctor it is not a priority case. We can see you on February 11th for your first consult and we will go from there." NOT A PRIORITY CASE! I obviously have cancer and now I am to wait another three weeks for a consult. NO, NO, NO, TIME TO BE MY OWN ADVOCATE AGAIN!
I call MD Anderson Cancer Center / Cooper and explain the seriousness of my case. Low and behold, I had an appointment the following Tuesday morning, January 26th with a gyn/onc. I met with many people that day and had quite a thorough exam including a recto-vaginal exam, which by the way, I was told by my new doctor every gynecologist should perform a recto-vaginal yearly exam on their patients. This is, truly, the best way to feel your "woman parts". Your parts are set back in your pelvic region and are not efficiently examined through the vagina. Through the recto-vaginal he could feel the tumor on my ovary. He told me he “will not know until he knows”; this meant a full abdominal hysterectomy. I was perfectly fine with his decision. I left his office and went right to pre-admission testing and was scheduled for my surgery less then 2 weeks later, Monday, February 8th.
The Saturday before my surgery I had a "coming" while I was sleeping that I, indeed, had Stage III Ovarian Cancer. I told my husband about my dream and he told me I was crazy. I wasn't crazy at all. Think about though; what cancer do you know you have until you actually have it? That is a very valid point. It was only right before the surgery that my stomach started feeling funny and something wasn't right but the surgery was already booked so I just rode the storm out. Stage III is the most common stage. In fact, one of my nurses, 43 years old and she, herself, had ovarian cancer at the age of 40 told me that Stage I is such a rarity and Stage II is even rarer that they should just start with Stage III.
Before surgery, the love and support started flowing. I thank all for walking this journey with me. The day of surgery I had so much support at the hospital. Ken, my hubby, came into recovery and broke the news to me; Yes, I indeed had Stage III ovarian cancer and he was absolutely devastated. I actually breathed a sigh of relief. I was my own advocate from the moment I had the CT Scan of my chest. I pushed and pushed and pushed. Within 5 weeks of the initial scan I had my hysterectomy, my diagnosis and was on the road to recovery. This was long before that first doctor, who didn't think I was a priority, would have seen me for my first consult. All because I WAS MY OWN VOICE!
February 8, 2016:
My journey continues with this disease! My CA-125 has been steadily coming down; now down to a 17.8. I have finished 5 cycles of IV/IP Taxol/Cisplatin and am awaiting # 6. Afterwards, I will go on a "maintenance" regiment for one year with the hopes of keeping this beast in its place. My next set of scans will be the end of July and I hope to be blessed with good results.
I will, also, be attending genetic counseling in July to see if there is any link between my cancer and the BRCA Gene. I Pray to God NO as I have three beautiful daughters, sisters, granddaughter and many nieces/great-nieces! I am still in the "afraid" phase of this entire shocking journey but I do not let it define who I am.
I am still the same person but have, presently, hit a bump in the road and need to live life a little differently right now! With the advancements made along with a positive attitude, I, truly, believe you can live a long life. Our doctors can present the game plan and best course of treatment for their patients BUT it is up to us to take the reigns in how we care for ourselves outside that infusion room! We are still in charge of our lives and it is up to us to work along with the doctor for the best positive outcome. I will push forward and become an advocate to help other people. Cancer does not discriminate and neither do I. It doesn't matter what type of cancer you suffer. We all have one thing in common - cancer. Let's lean on one another and help each other through this.
PLEASE BE YOUR OWN VOICE.PUSH FOR ANSWERS. WRITE NOTES. ASK QUESTIONS. LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD. YOU ARE NOT JUST A PATIENT NUMBER. YOU ARE SOMEBODY'S MOM, WIFE, FRIEND AND GRAMMY. LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD
Fate whispers to the warrior "You cannot withstand the storm" and the warrior whispers back "I am the storm" Nancy