Ovarian Cancer did not stop me from running or smiling.
Ovarian Cancer is the silent killer. So silent that I ran my first Bermuda Day Half-Marathon May 2012 and was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in June 2012. I had no obvious symptoms.
My journey has been an interesting one and today, I can say honestly that cancer has made me a stronger and better person. One may wonder how but it is quite simple, when you can no longer take the weeks and months for granted, life takes on a crystal clear picture.
June 2012, my perspective of life became crystal clear. After about 6 months of feeling bloated in my stomach and going to my GP, I was told there was nothing wrong. I was eating healthy and running quite a bit so the swelling didn’t make sense to me. I remember eating a fish cake on Good Friday of that year and having odd stomach pains, a type of pain I had not ever experienced. Despite visiting both the Acute Care Centre and King Edward Hospital, I was told nothing was wrong.
Weeks later I began to wake up with fluid in my bed. Clear fluid that was gone after I was up and about. Again after going to my GP and having various tests including a pap smear, I was told there was nothing wrong. I would later learn this fluid was coming from an ovarian cyst that was cancer.
A change of doctors meant a different test, an internal ultrasound and blood test. It was shortly after those results were analyzed and I was immediately referred to a gynecologist, there was a diagnosis that there was a cyst on my ovary. Meeting that gentle and kind gynecologist was the beginning of my journey to learn more about my family history of breast cancer. It was this doctor who said that since I had two sisters with breast cancer (both deceased); I would need to go to Dana Farber in Boston, to determine if the cyst on my ovary was malignant. I don’t remember if he said the cancer word, but I do remember asking if I could continue running.
Once in Boston and seen by a gynecological oncologist and surgeon, I was advised the cyst could be ovarian cancer as I had a family history of breast cancer. You see the missing piece was connecting my family history of breast cancer to ovarian cancer. They are linked if you have a family history.
Surgery was scheduled and the next day, my surgeon so calmly spoke these words, “We have every reason to be optimistic. You have ovarian cancer”. The days and months following were the most difficult and painful time of my life. I recovered quickly from surgery and was out walking and running fairly quickly. It was the return trip to face chemo that the truth of my diagnosis sank in. The grueling chemo treatments to follow would render me so physically weak and bald that it seemed like God had forsaken me. It was prayer and a determination to run that gave me a sense of control over my life. I think I became Forest Gump during that time. To the surprise of many, I even entered running races (cap over my bald head).
Somehow, I survived those four months with new hair growth and a chance to run more consistently again. My treatments were over, my hair growing back and my body was getting stronger.
Since the 2012 year of diagnosis, surgery and chemo, I have experienced recurrence of Ovarian Cancer. However, with a great team of doctors at Dana Farber, I’ve beat this cancer back. Many who know me have asked how I have done this. The answer is simple. I have a deep faith in God, loving family and friends. I continue to eat wholesome foods, drink lots of water and I run and smile as much as I can. My running has given me a sense of strength and resilience to giving in to despair.
My advice to women is to know their bodies and family medical histories, especially if there is breast and ovarian cancer in the family. Eat healthy, exercise and hydrate well. These simple things can strengthen your body to fight diseases like cancer. Live your life like it is crystal clear that tomorrow is not promised to any of us.