Cathi Bell West Jefferson, OH

My story. I am 48 years old. Married for 29 years with two grown children, and two granddaughters. I’ve had cysts on my ovaries most of my adult life. They would come and go – not much of an issue. Started having symptoms in November 2010, literally 3-4 weeks after my yearly pap and exam. I had no symptoms at the time of exam and my doctor did not feel anything during her routine exam.

In November, I noticed bloating, hardness in my lower abdominal area, my pants feeling tight and uncomfortable, pain in my ovary area that didn’t go away, started having short, four-day periods every two weeks with extremely heavy bleeding for 2 out of the 4 days. I called my doc in mid-November, got in a couple of weeks later, then she scheduled me for an ultrasound. Ultrasound showed a large mass. Doc then sent me for a CA125 blood test. CA125 came back at 49. Doc said slightly elevated, but wasn’t too concerned (neither was I), but said she’d have it tested at the time of surgery and if even remotely questionable of being cancerous, will remove everything. I said ok.

Scheduled surgery for Jan. 31, 2011. During surgery, pathology came back with Stage 4 cancer, so doc took everything out (both ovaries, tubes, uterus, cervix, appendix and wall of fat). Pathology did a thorough look at my other removed parts and came back with a final result of Stage 1. Thank God! During my hospital stay, a gyn oncologist visited me every day and informed me I’d need chemo. I thought it would be something like a pill, which would be no big deal. I had none of the risk factors for ovarian cancer; I had not gone through menopause, I have never been overweight, I gave birth to 2 children, I took birth control pills until age 38, had my tubes tied at age 40, no family history of ovarian cancer and my mom and her mom are still living and neither one of them has had any cancer.

When I had my first meeting with the oncologist in his office, he informed me I’d need chemo to make sure there are no cancer cells in me and that the chemo is the nasty stuff. I kept my feelings in check until I got home. When my husband and I got home, I had a melt down. I just knew that poison was going to kill me, or at least make me so sick that I would wish I was dead. Everyone I knew who had had chemo were no longer living. I almost opted not to do chemo. If it had not been for my family, I probably would not have. This past March, I started 6 rounds, every 3 weeks, of Carboplatin and Taxol, by way of IV. My first chemo treatment was the worst. Thank God I had no nausea due to the meds for that. But had other crap that made me feel really bad. Two weeks after my first treatment, started losing my hair. My husband buzzed my hair off the following Saturday. That was the second and last melt down I had.

Each treatment got a little better, but I became depressed over my hair loss. I hate that I’m so vain. I returned to work fulltime 9 weeks after surgery and have continued working, other than a day here and there due to treatments. My employer was very accommodating and allowed me to use paid FMLA for time I needed to take off related to the cancer/chemo. My last treatment was June 21. Had a CT scan and CA125 test in July. CT scanned me from neck to pelvis and showed nothing except what was supposed to be there. My CA125 level was at 6. All during my treatments, my CA125 tests came back at 6 or 7.
I have been asked numerous times by people affiliated with ovarian cancer organizations, that since I’m staged at 1, which is rare, how did I know to see a doctor and what were my symptoms. I know that a lot of women do not have symptoms until it’s too late and I don’t know why I had them early. When the symptoms I mentioned earlier lasted for a couple of weeks, and weren’t going away, I knew something was wrong. Cancer was the last thing on my mind. I just thought it was another cyst, which had gotten out of control. I am also very in-tune with my body. Before my surgery, I had put on close to 10 pounds in a matter of 2-3 months, which has never happened before.

I am on the road to normalcy now. My hair is coming back in – about an inch long. It’s more gray than before chemo, and what isn’t gray is dark. My hair has never been that dark. Can’t wait to have enough to color back to blonde! My eyebrows and eyelashes are back. My eyelashes are fuller than before. Because my eyebrows came in looking like caterpillars, I had them waxed and low and behold, the waxed part isn’t growing back!

My oncologist informed me that I am now the start of ovarian cancer in my family and that I should inform my immediate female relatives that they are at risk. So, I informed my daughter and two sisters. (My mom had a total hysterectomy nearly 40 years ago due to a non-cancerous uterine tumor.) I am concerned for my daughter and sisters, and I cannot expressed to them enough what symptoms to look out for. I would feel better if they would get the genetic testing to hopefully rule it out.

My husband was a godsend throughout this entire ordeal. I had always been the stronger one whenever the chips were down. But this time, during my recovery time from surgery, my meltdowns, treatment visits, and everything in between, my husband stepped up and was my solid, strong rock and awesome caregiver, without any hesitation. He took time off work and went with me to every treatment. I love him even more than ever in our 29 years of marriage. I have been crabby and irritable towards him occasionally due to my mojo (hormones) being taken away, and I’m working on fixing that. My whole family was great with support, as well as my co-workers, and my husband’s friends, which are men. Who knew?! What was disappointing to me was that I did not hear anything at all the entire time from my oldest and dearest friends. Not even a quick “how are you” in an email. I didn’t confront them on this because I knew any of their excuses was just that, excuses. So I’ve learned who really matters to me.

I also have to give mention of my gynecologist for being “on it” from day one. I’ve been hearing and reading so much of women’s doctors blowing off their symptoms and concerns, thereby delaying medical action. I find that very disturbing and frightening. My gynocologist did everything right from the ultrasound to the removal of all my parts.

I found that humor was the best medicine throughout the entire ordeal. I’ve always been a happy-go-lucky person with a great sense of humor. If you can’t change things, then find things to laugh about and surround yourself with humorous people.

I became depressed when I learned of the horrid chemo treatments I’d need. I was so afraid of it making me deathly sick. At this point in my life, I had always been very healthy. A seasonal cold would be the worse sickness I’d get. I haven’t had the flu in close to 20 years and I have never even had an infection in my whole life! But with chemo, I was afraid my record would be broken. But, apparently due to my awesome immune system, and/or, careful living by staying away from sick people and washing hands a lot, or the grace of God, I managed to get through all chemo treatments without any colds, flu or infections. My record stays intact!

My final word is the lessons I learned from my own experience and from hearing/reading others’ experience: Cancer can happen to any one, at any time, no matter your family history or how healthy you are. However, I believe the healthier you are, the better you’ll endure the treatments. Strong support from family and/or friends is vital. I learned the hard way that constipation is indeed a very serious matter. Talk about s***ting a brick! Stool softeners are your best friend. Bad hair days won’t exist for me anymore. Listen to your body and be persistent with your doctor if needed. Laughter is truly the best medicine. With the knowledge of having cancer, I initially thought how unlucky I was. But, after hearing and reading what others have gone through and what they have yet to go through, I now know I have been very lucky from the get-go.