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Funding Research and Awareness for Ovarian Cancer

Survivor Stories — Lois M. Myers

         
On February 3rd 1998, I became a member of a very special club. You may be familiar with the late comedian, Groucho Marx, who had many famous quotes. One, in particular, goes something like this: “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” And, in this case, this is TRULY a club I would not have joined voluntarily. However, I did not have that choice—or, DID I? Listen to my story and see if I may have had a choice:

Since I started seeing the gynecologist, I had uneventful gynecological exams. During an exam in 1992, however, my doctor discovered that I had uterine fibroid tumors. Luckily, it involved only a procedure called a myomectomy, where my doctor surgically removed the fibroids. Basically, I had a “C” section, but rather than delivering a baby, I delivered a grapefruit, golf ball, almond, and a raisin.

My exams for the next three years were clear. Then, a pap in 1995 showed abnormal cells called dysplasia. My gynecologist performed a colposcopy, where he froze suspicious cells. I had quarterly pap smears over the next two years and continued to get good reports—the subsequent paps were normal.

In the meantime, I was under a lot of stress at work. During the summer of ’97 I was in charge for a few weeks while my boss was on vacation. I remember running around like a crazy woman from one meeting to another, never taking time for a proper lunch break and usually grabbing a bite on the run. I remember picking up a turkey sandwich, taking one bite, and feeling full right away, but I didn’t give it much thought. I attributed the feeling of fullness to my crazy schedule and the resulting stress level.

I had also been watching my weight and working out, yet as the year progressed I noticed my jeans were getting tighter, not looser. But the holidays were near, and I never really had a flat stomach to begin with! I also remember going on some dates and being concerned about having more gas than usual—I thought maybe I should go buy “Beano!”

In January 1998, it was time for my annual visit to the gynecologist. I had the internal exam, but something was very wrong. The doctor asked me to have an ultrasound because the alleged “fibroid” had gotten bigger since last year.

I arrived at his office the following Tuesday when the ultrasound technician would be there. The technician conducted an external ultrasound and told me to return to the waiting room. As I sat in the waiting room wondering what was going on, I began getting agitated. I had to and wanted to get back to the office.

I then learned that I was not finished. The doctor ordered an internal ultrasound. Oh! The journey was about to begin and I still had no idea what was waiting for me around the corner.

CT scans, CA 125, EEG—some new and improved bloody acronyms (pun intended!), to add to my vocabulary. I knew I had to endure more tests, but I didn’t fully understand what was going on.

Coincidentally, my friend, Liz, had been to the same gynecologist the very day I had the ultrasound. She was expecting a baby in May. Interestingly, she had noticed my file was right on top of hers and had even overheard the doctor ordering all these tests for me. First, she heard him saying they would probably have to do a right oopherectomy—the removal of the right ovary—because there was a cyst on it. It seemed Liz knew more than I did about my health situation. Isn’t it strange that my friend learned more about my circumstances? Why didn’t the doctor explain things more fully to me?

My first CT scan was quite a milestone! I was a nervous wreck—the tech tried to reassure me and said all he saw was something near my right ovary; there was nothing anywhere else.

Then, at the end of January, I found out I’d have surgery on February 3rd. The Friday before surgery I spoke to my doctor and he very casually said they may have to do a colostomy as the mass was “resting” on top of my bowel. (Needless to say that scared the crap out of me.) The word “cancer” had never been mentioned and I was still holding on to the hope that the cyst would be benign. I had checked the internet and learned that for premenopausal women 95% of cysts were benign.

The “big” day was here. I started counting backwards from 100 and then the next thing I remember was being semi-conscious. I thought I heard my doctor whisper that I didn’t have a colostomy.

I was in the midst of a true “out of body” experience. I saw two shadowy figures in front of me, looking at an X-ray. The tall one said “Chemo.” and the short one said “No chemo.” I couldn’t move or speak or react in any way—I was still in an ethereal, drugged state. But I did vaguely realize I was not one of the lucky 95% with a benign cyst.

I now was officially a member of that “special club:” ovarian cancer survivor. Full hysterectomy. Appendectomy. Removal of the omentum, the fatty sheath over the abdomen, and optimal debulking. At first I was told I had a borderline case, Stage I. My gynecologist tried to reassure me by saying it was a low-grade malignancy!

I started chemotherapy in March and it wasn’t until June that I had my first post-op visit with the tall doctor from the recovery room—the one who had performed my surgery. The gynecologist /oncologist looked at my file and matter-of-factly said, “I see you are a Stage III.” Both my mother and I looked at each other in amazement. All along we thought I was Stage I. His explanation was that the final pathology report came back after I had been discharged. It really made me wonder what else had I not known about my case.

This “ovarian cancer” odyssey has been quite an adventure. It has inspired me to become an activist as well as an advocate. As much as we want to trust our doctors, we cannot have blind faith in them. We have the right to a second, and even a third opinion. It is our body and our lives.

From this experience I've learned that it is imperative that every woman pay attention and listen to her body. Never write off subtle changes or symptoms as stress, especially if they persist for more than two or three weeks. Believe me, if I knew then what I know now I would have insisted my doctor order an ultrasound in ’97 when he mistakenly assumed I had another fibroid tumor.

And finally, when you do go through treatment like I did, remember that you're an individual, not a statistic. My surgeon reminded me of that and it helped a great deal!

(Note: I did, in fact, have a recurrence in March 2005. Because I had a long remission I underwent the same chemo regimen that I had in 1998 of Carboplatin and Taxol.)