After reading all of the Action Hero Survivor stories on the HERA website, I realized how much I would like to be included on this list of amazing women. I had the honor of meeting Samantha, beautiful Samantha, in 2006, and again in 2008, at the Salt Lake City Climb4Life weekend. I came home in 2006 with my very own knitted ovary, a treasure I keep tucked away in my Grandmother’s hope chest. I was also fortunate to have met with tireless warrior, Sean Patrick.In 2004, seemingly a picture of health at the age of 55, I had become an advocate for the absolute necessity of taking responsibility for one’s health. My actions spoke for themselves. Yes, I took care of myself. I was active. I was happy, and I was connected to many like-minded women.
On a beautiful spring evening, May 2004, I sat down with my women’s strength training class to share the news that I had been diagnosed with cancer and would be out of commission for a while. The next 30 minutes were, most likely, some of the most incredibly lovely moments of my life. After the initial shock settled, we began to talk, to ask questions, to reflect. Collectively, we became unified by this “unbelievable” news. I no longer remember the actual conversation. What I do remember is the genuine warmth that was generated, one of the first of many gifts I would receive as a result of this insidious disease.
Surgery was scheduled mid May. My stay in the hospital lasted a full seven days, as I wasn’t allowed to eat any solid food, or even chew on ice chips until I could pass gas. My husband was so relieved on day six when “it” finally happened; he had been camping out in my hospital room every night in an old worn-down recliner chair. However, it was only a matter of hours after the IV was finally removed before another was put back in so that I could have a “port” implanted in my arm. I had no idea what a port was, but I was getting one. The next morning the head of the gynecology/oncology department arrived with his well-rehearsed, not to be interrupted speech, which included the words, “you will lose your hair.” Finally, I was heading home.
As we all know, this disease is tricky to diagnose. Sean’s activism helped to get an approved/accepted list of ovarian cancer symptoms. I would like to point out that I did have symptoms, just not necessarily recognizable symptoms, to this disease. Exhaustion is an understatement, yet I soldiered on. I burped, hard painful burps, daily. I couldn’t understand why I had such an excruciating pain in my mid-back (nowhere near my ovaries). Something was clearly wrong. I could have started at our family doctor but chose to go in for my annual check up first. Thank goodness my Pap smear produced an atypical cell and my gynecologist decided to investigate further. What he found was high-grade papillary serous carcinoma. The two were effectively unrelated, however, because the Pap smear tests for cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer.
After much thought, I elected to enter a triple cocktail clinical trial, requiring eight infusions, two more than the standard protocol. Nine months later, in mid December of 2004, I headed home with a certificate of completion in hand. The remission lasted just one short year, and the disease has been “managed” ever since. Bald became the norm. I’ve lost my hair four separate times as I’ve experienced a long list of chemo agents. By the fourth time, I wore my baldness publicly. Yes. Look at me. I am a survivor.
April 29, 2012 will mark my eighth anniversary since hearing the “C” word. There will be a blood draw and doctor’s appointment mid April. How will I do this time? The initial diagnosis was Stage IIIC. Upon return, the disease became referred to as recurring ovarian cancer. When I first heard of women undergoing weekly infusions to manage the disease, I was incredulous. Not me!! But I did just that, for a year and a half straight, every Wednesday morning, a Taxol infusion. I began keeping an infusion log early on, which, years later, is a rather remarkable statement of this journey. Best of all, I’m still standing and enjoying an active life.
I’ve practiced yoga poses on top of rocks in Moab, UT, Telemark-skied in Colorado, and completed four Uphill Downhill ski races in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan. I rode my bike in the Copperman Tri while my son swam and ran, keeping us out of last place. The next year I entered and completed a “girl’s only” beginner triathlon in Akron, OH. I recently finished a challenging six-mile snowshoe course. I’ll never be a top finisher in these events, but I can guarantee I’m a winner in my heart! Actually performing 63 consecutive pushups on my 63rd birthday gave me a good hearty laugh!!
My job? I’m a personal trainer offering Senior Citizen fitness classes, yoga and personal training. Additionally, I manage the books for my husband’s building business. I love what I do, and I’m so grateful I can still do it.