Julie Hansen Washburn, WI

I received an ovarian cancer diagnosis January of 2010 and I felt like I got whacked on the head by a two by four. It was a big wake up call.

It’s overwhelming, frightening, and lonely. It knocked me off balance. Facing cancer also means facing uncertainty and my own mortality, not to mention the physical changes of treatment as well as stress and the financial strain of the experience. I was in the hospital from January 28th until March 29th. I had a total hysterectomy and discovered that I had stage IIIc ovarian cancer and just when I was recovering from that surgery 14 days later I got a bowel obstruction and again another surgery to recover from. I had so many procedures and complications following the surgery. My bowels wouldn’t work, the swelling from the debulking would not go away, and I had a paracentesis four times to deal with my ascites. I was in the hospital twice in June, once for pneumonia and then I had a thoracocentesis which caused a hole in my lung. I have had four blood transfusions and in turn I developed an anti body in my blood. I started chemo while I was in the hospital which is not ideal, so of course with my weakened immune system came the rashes and the c-diff infection. It seemed endless.

I was fortunate to have my husband and son with me in the hospital. Everything was overwhelming and it was important that they were there to assist me. I found out 2010 was the worst and best year of my life. I found out my brothers love me deeply and my sister in laws even surprised me on how much they care about and love me. It has been almost two years and I am on the third round of chemo. I see my oncologist every month and I had a hernia surgery at the end of the 2010. (A hernia I received from my two stomach surgeries.) Ovarian cancer has such a high recurrence rate that I will have to be checked frequently.

Dealing with all the side effects from chemo, nerve damage in my feet, the depleting of my bone marrow and damaging healthy tissue. The steroids I take make me bloated, moonfaced and prone to storms of emotion. I tell people that, “It is better to look good then to feel good.” There is no instruction manual for cancer or for life. I am glad I don’t have to walk this road by myself. Ovarian cancer is considered a chronic disease and I am finding that out because my CA125 is on the rise. Now I am on a waiting list for Doxil because there is a shortage of that chemo and Taxol. In the meantime they put me on Topotecan and now I just found out that is not working. I am looking into clinical trials at Mayo and a second opinion.

When is Hope a legitimate offer or consumer fraud? What if I can’t, or don’t get well? The balance between attention and forgetting is difficult. Should I be in denial or neglect my cancer, sometimes ignorance is bliss for what you want in life, just to forget yourself. I need purpose and more than that hope!

I had a pet scan recently and that appears to be unchanged which is good. I am looking for a new doctor since my retired. I was not happy with the replacement because they don’t know my history or seem to care. When I went in for my appointment they wanted to take me off Taxatere and put me on Gemzar, which I have been on already and failed. I felt like once my doctor retired they don’t really have someone to take his place, and I saw a nurse practitioner who had no idea what to do and she could not get hold of my new doctor that I was supposed to see because she was working in another clinic. Doctors have no time for compassion, I felt cheated and doctors go numb.

Cancer is an unplanned journey that can shake us to our core. I am trying to stay centered and calm. I wish I knew what my next move should be, more chemo, hormone therapy or clinical trial. I am trying to read all the information on the internet but everyone is so different. A good death doesn’t depend on how many days you have left but on what those days are like. You are alive until you die, if I let go will I come back? I wish I could make everyone diagnosed with cancer a survivor. We all need reasons to live, mine is family and love for my husband and son. Staying alive and expressing deep parts of myself that matter and that makes me uniquely who I am. Why fight for more life unless that life has value? Every person is worth life, worth saving and fighting for. It helps me believe in a tomorrow.