Action Hero Survivors  :  Kim Polk, Hiker

Kim Polk PhotoOn September 28, 2009 I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer.  I remember thinking “I don’t get it.  Where did this come from?  How did this happen?”  For about 2-3 months I had experienced some bloating, a feeling of fullness and pelvic pressure that are classic symptoms of the disease.  I didn’t know that then; I just blamed it on being 50.  I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m just gonna be 50 and fat.”  Then, one day, I decided the feeling just wasn’t right and, at my request, my primary care physician scheduled a CT.  Easy enough to do considering I worked at an outpatient imaging facility.  Following the scan, the head radiologist came to me to talk.  He reviewed the images with me and said, “You’ve got a partially calcified mass on the right ovary and a moderate amount of free fluid, and I don’t like it.”  I asked him point blank if it was ovarian cancer, to which he replied that it could be.  Only six weeks before I’d lost a friend to ovarian cancer.  Now it was me, and I was scared.

The days that followed were a whirlwind of events, some of which I don’t even remember.  Within seven days of that CT scan, I walked into the Anschutz Cancer Pavilion at University Hospital in Aurora, Colorado.  I remember looking up at the sign, at that word ‘cancer,’ and thinking, “Really?  This is a bad dream, right?”  After reviewing the images and performing an exam, the oncologist did not initially think it was cancerous, but he said I needed surgery.  My husband, Glenn, was right there in the room with me and when the doctor told me that they would not be able to do surgery until the following Monday, I looked over at Glenn and said, “Woo hoo, that means we’re going hunting this weekend!”  And we had a great weekend in the Sierra Madre mountains.  My folks had come up from Texas for their annual fall visit so, gratefully, they were with us when it all went down.

The morning after surgery, my doctor came into the room and said, “Surgery went very well, I got everything I could possibly find, and I am confident we got it all.  But, you have ovarian cancer.  You will need chemotherapy, and you will lose your hair.  Provided the treatments go well, however, there is no reason for you not to live another 15 years.”  My mom asked him how aggressively he was going to treat me and he said, “Just as aggressively as I possibly can.”  I remember saying, “Whatever it takes, just get it out of me.”

Then I cried.  A lot.  I kept saying, “I don’t get it, I just don’t get it.”  My mom held my hand, and Glenn held me, and said “Hey, you are a strong, determined person and you will beat this.   I will be with you every step of the way.  We will beat it and we’ll do it together.”  Getting my head around it took a few days, but once it sank in, I just got the mindset that I was NOT going to be a statistic, I was going to be a survivor.  Online reading and research was a great resource, and testimonials I read from other survivors were also a great inspiration.

It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize that this thing was much bigger than I could handle alone, and I was going to need a lot of help.  Turning to the highest power I knew, I was able to draw strength and courage from my strong convictions as a Christian and my belief in God.   I spent a lot of time on my knees asking the Man upstairs for the strength and focus I would need to get through this with a positive attitude.    I was very thankful for being a healthy, strong person and for the good prognosis I’d been given.  I believe that prayer played an enormous role in my healing process.  I knew that I had to just put it into His hands and let Him handle it for me.  Sometimes I would want to take it back, but in my heart, I knew I had to leave it in His hands.  I had cancer, it was real, and I could not go it alone.  My faith was my stronghold.

Talking openly about my cancer with my family, friends, and co-workers came easily for me.  The more I talked about it, the less afraid of it I became.  As my fear decreased, my passion for fighting it increased!  All of the prayers and words of encouragement I received every day were incredible.  How could I not be positive?  Keeping a positive attitude really is half the battle.  Glenn shared something he’d read once about how a hurricane and a positive attitude were much the same in that there is a tremendous amount of force and it is unstoppable.

I’d read about the stages cancer patients go through during the illness:  fear, denial and depression.   Well, with me it stopped at fear.  Denial wasn’t an issue, it was cancer and it was the real deal.  My oncologist saw it and the CA 125 confirmed it.  Depression was not a problem either because on every trip I took to Denver for my treatments, I always saw patients who were much worse off than me.  Yes, I had bad days but I wasn’t about to give up and quit.  I wanted this disease out of me.   I had trails to hike and roads to jeep!

I did develop neuropathy in both feet but I kept on with my treatments.  I figured that was a small price to pay and the overall outcome was well worth it.  Yes, I lost my hair and I remember looking in the mirror one evening and saying to myself, “Oh my Lord, I look just like my Daddy!”  He probably didn’t even know how cute he was until he saw me bald!  Now I had a perfect excuse to wear my Dallas Cowboys and Texas Longhorn caps to work and get away with it.

My oncologist enrolled me in a clinical trial following my initial treatments and these were administered once a month for 12 months.  The data received so far indicated that this maintenance treatment could reduce the chances of recurrence by about 40%!  Whatever it takes, right?

I had my post chemo CT on May 13, 2011.  I am cancer free.  By the grace of God and the skills and knowledge of an awesome oncologist, I’ve been given a second chance.  The journey was long and the road was rough, but I hit this thing head on and didn’t take “no” for an answer.  You have to fight like your life depends on it, because, guess what, it does.  A friend of mine who was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago told me that when she was diagnosed, instead of asking herself “why me,” she asked herself, “why not me?”  Well, this question goes both ways.  When I learned of my cancer, I asked myself that very same question of “why not me?”  Why can’t I be a survivor?  After this long journey, now I am a proud survivor, and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be a part of another day.

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