Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Heather, a very special friend of mine. Heather has been through so much and because she is such an inspiration I have asked her to share what support from other survivors has meant to her.
I was diagnosed with a very rare type of ovarian cancer when I was 27 years old. A visit to my Ob/Gyn showed a small cyst on my right ovary. After checking once a month for 3 months and because it was still slowly growing we decided to remove my right ovary with outpatient surgery. During surgery it was found to be ovarian cancer. When I woke up, I knew I wasn’t going home that day.
I didn’t actively begin connecting with the community of survivors until 2012, over 10 years later, but I did reach out through the health and wellness program offered at my cancer center, specifically survivor counseling. I remember meeting the social worker at my first visit 13 years ago. She helped me deal with the reality of being diagnosed with cancer and was especially helpful during chemo visits later in my journey. In the first few years, I never considered myself as a cancer survivor. Having a rare type of ovarian cancer, I felt that excluded me from the others. Granulosa Cell type was the “good” kind to have, so I was told. It is usually slow growing and doesn’t recur too soon, possibly a 20+ years recurrence rate. And, surgery can remove it, as long as it doesn’t invade a major organ, which it typically doesn’t. Cancer is still cancer and I was yearning to feel “understood” and “normal”. Yet, I was a very busy wife and mother and lived over an hour away from my treatment center.
My husband would have to beg me to so see the social worker. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around being a cancer survivor, a mother of a very active little boy, a wife, the family manager of bills, finances, schedules and our son’s education. Usually, I talked to the social worker before appointments and surgeries. Another way I connected with other survivors was by just talking to them when I was getting chemo. If it felt right, it was easy to connect since we were both there and held captive for several hours. Some of my closest friendships began in the infusion room, including nurses! A few years ago, I joined the ovarian support group called the Teal Magnolias. Immersing myself in the ovarian cancer community in my own special way has given me a sense of ownership. I am comfortable connecting in small groups and one on one, and because of this, I feel I am making a difference in my life and the lives of others.
Just a few weeks ago, I returned from a first-for-me survivors beach trip. It was a “gifted” trip, as all of us needed to get away, but many of us didn’t have a way to make it happen. I was thrilled when I heard from Patsy that she found a place and had already started putting the details for the trip in motion. She orchestrated a beautiful getaway and I felt like a princess in every way possible. She cared for, spoiled and pampered us down to every precious detail.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous, at first, not knowing who would be coming, but I was more comfortable knowing at least two ladies and that made a huge difference for me. We could plan to come and go as we wished and had so much space to move around the house that taking a nap or just sitting out in the porch rocking chair provided any solitude needed after a busy day by the ocean. The timing of this trip was perfect for me. Even a few months ago, I would not have had the energy to even pack, travel and enjoy such a huge gift.
On our last evening, we all took a short walk out to our beach. Patsy had already asked each of us to take our fears, our worries and concerns and write each word on a seashell, later to be tossed out to sea. We also wrote on individual shells the names of survivors who were not able to be there with us and going through challenges and struggles. The soft orange-gray sky and the sound of the waves lapping the shore remain in my mind and I will never forget this special time together.
We thrived together on this trip, we didn’t just survive.
(link to the video is http://vimeo.com/108957312)
- Posted in: survivorship