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Battling Ovarian Cancer: My Personal Cancer Journey

By Erica E. Bell

On Nov. 18, 2010, at the age of 32, my life was changed forever. I went in for surgery to remove a possible dermoid cyst on my right ovary, as well as endometriosis, because of symptoms I was having. When I woke up in recovery I just knew something wasn’t right.

"The night before my surgery, I lightheartedly told my mother to not be shocked if it was cancer. I am not sure why I said this to her, but I must have had a gut feeling that it was more than what we thought."

As my nurse and doctor wheeled me to my hospital room I asked my GYN how everything went at which she replied, “I will let you know once we get to your room.” At that point I knew it wouldn’t be good news.

As I was wheeled into my hospital room my husband of only six months came in and sat next to me, then my doctor delivered us the bad news. Instead of finding a dermoid cyst and endometriosis, I had a tumor on both of my ovaries. The doctor then continued to tell me she examined all of my organs and found that microscopic cells had spread to my peritoneum, bladder and omentum over my stomach. I was in complete shock.

Then she said the dreaded words, “You have stage 3 Epithelial Ovarian Cancer, and you will need a hysterectomy.” I was devastated. As a newlywed, my husband and I wanted to start a family in the next couple of months. All of our dreams were gone in just three words…“you have cancer.” The doctor was waiting for my reaction and all I could say was, “I had a feeling it would be cancer.”

The night before my surgery, I lightheartedly told my mother to not be shocked if it was cancer. I am not sure why I said this to her, but I must have had a gut feeling that it was more than what we thought. I felt the need to tell my mother this because she is a breast cancer survivor. The following day, the pain from my laparotomy began and my family wondered why I still wasn’t reacting to the diagnosis I was given. All I could say was I had plenty of time to cry but if I cried right now I would be in way too much pain, it was my way of blocking it out.

As I recovered in the hospital I tried to figure out how to move forward with my life, what would happen next and how would I manage. At that moment, I decided that this cancer wasn’t going to win, that I would fight and beat this awful disease. Once I got home, the research began. I scoured the internet for as much information as possible to educate myself on the disease that would consume my life. A lot of the information was heartbreaking. I found so many negative statistics that I became discouraged and stopped looking.

Two weeks after my surgery, I met with my oncologist Dr. Hall at Levine Cancer Institute, who was a breath of fresh air. He made me feel confident; that I would be just fine and that I could beat this cancer. He told me to “live my life as normal” and from that day on, that is exactly what I tried to do. We made the decision to do the hysterectomy before starting my chemo. On Jan. 7, I lost my uterus and found out that I had stage 3A ovarian cancer. Dr. Hall told me I was considered late stage, but I’m lucky that only the cancer cells had spread and not tumors. At that moment, I knew that my life would be very different and I had to make the best of it. I started chemo on Jan. 31 and finished with my 6th cycle on May 23.

I lost my hair, my energy and a bit of myself during those five months, but I became determined to find out who I am now and how I can help others in the fight against this silent killer. Following my first chemo, I decided to get tested for the BRCA 1 and 2 genes since my mother was a breast cancer survivor. Thankfully, I tested negative for both genes. Since my mother had breast cancer and I now have ovarian cancer, I still have to monitor my health. It is always better to catch something early instead of too late. After my diagnosis, I joined the Ovarian Cancer Support Group also known as the “Teal Magnolias” at Levine Cancer Institute.

This group has been a great support system for me. When I first joined they were planning the inaugural Stiletto Sprint in Charlotte to raise money for Ovarian Cancer Research. As the cause was near and dear to my heart, I immediately became involved. The event, held April 9 was a huge success! Raising over $70,000 dollars toward research and far surpassed our goal of $25,000. The event was filled with laughter and fun, even the doctors got involved and sprinted in their best dresses and stilettos to support the cause. The crowd is already looking forward to the next event in April 2012.

The diagnosis of ovarian cancer has been very hard for me. Not being able to have my own children is most devastating. However, I have decided to live my life as normal as possible and do as much as I can to advocate and educate others about ovarian cancer and its symptoms. I want to make sure doctors listen to their patients so they do not go undiagnosed as I did. The love and support of my husband, family and friends has helped me through my journey.

I know I will have emotional days thinking of what I have lost due to ovarian cancer. I also realize how much I have gained, the new friends and a future of possibilities that lie ahead of me. I think about my cancer, everyday and am aware of the battle I have to face. Today I am happy to report that I have finished my chemotherapy treatments and recently found out that I am in remission. I believe there are several challenges in life that mold you into the person you are meant to become; what you learned from each challenge you face determines how you decide to live your life. Live it to the fullest and truly enjoy each day you have.

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