My name is Shannon. I am from Charlotte, NC. I am married.
In July of 2009, I had just returned from my dream vacation to France. Not even a month later, following a few trips to the gynecologist with complaints of abdominal pain, I was sitting in the office of a gynecologic oncologist. I had never even heard those words used in a sentence. I was being prepped for surgery to remove a cyst.
One week later, I was diagnosed with Stage IIa clear cell carcinoma, a form of ovarian cancer considered rare in younger women. Within two weeks of being diagnosed, I had to have a radical hysterectomy and a few weeks later, I began six rounds of chemotherapy. I was 32 years old and approaching my third wedding anniversary.
My husband and I thought we had plenty of time to have kids naturally. So, not only was having cancer a big shock, but coming to terms with never being able to ‘feel’ a baby grow inside me was also a lot to take in. I started looking for more information on my cancer. I mean, this was the first time I had ever heard of ovarian cancer. The information I found was scary. My doctor told me to stay off the Internet, and I did. I asked him what my color was, and he looked confused. I knew pink was for breast cancer and so I almost immediately thought, Oh my, what’s my color? And I’m not going to lie. I hoped the awareness color designated for ovarian cancer went well with my skin tone. By the way, it does.
Having heard about chemotherapy, I knew it would be a physical strain, but I never anticipated the emotional drain. Some days I felt great and embraced the world. Other days, I felt distant and didn’t want to entertain anyone. There were days throughout treatment people would stop by and you really do appreciate the visit, but you can barely manage movement from one room to another, much less remember why you were moving from one room to another in the first place. I tried to be very strong during treatment and never let anyone see me upset. For me to have a visitor meant I had to be ‘on,’ like being on stage. What got me through the bad days was knowing there would be good days. I mean, I didn’t know when, but I knew it could be the next day. I lost ALL of my hair. I always thought you just lost the hair on your head, no one told me your facial hair and body hair would also fall out. I had a really hard time with that. As quickly as treatment started, it ended, but let me say, it did not feel so quick going through it. With each day, my hair grew back, my body healed, and my memory became stronger.
Being diagnosed was an eye-opener, to say the least. I now understand what it means to take care of my body and to LIVE each day. It is important for me to work towards a healthier lifestyle and surround myself with people who lift me up. When I was diagnosed, I had never heard of ovarian cancer, I thought there had to be other people who have never heard of it, too.
And so, in an effort to raise awareness of this disease and get people talking about it, my husband and I, along with friends, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro on my second anniversary of being diagnosed. There were several reasons for the trip. I wanted to raise awareness, I wanted to prove to myself I could do it after being so fatigued after chemotherapy, and I needed to release all of the emotions I had held onto while undergoing treatment in order to stay strong for my family and friends. I had been told that, when the time was right, I would let those emotions go. Well, the time came the night I summited. I let it all go. The climb was both physically and emotionally draining. I told my husband the feelings you go through trying to summit were just like the feelings you go through with chemotherapy. He was amazed. The comparison of what he felt and the strength it took to push through in order to summit became very real, and he was finally able to understand what I had endured for months. During the summit night, there were times I was weak, depressed, cold, lonely, and felt defeated. I asked God for strength and when I did, names of SURVIVORS popped in my head. I thought of those I had met, those who I may never meet, and those looking down on me. Peace and determination came to me and I thought: I had poison running through my veins and every bit of my normal taken from me. This mountain will not defeat me just like cancer did not defeat me. It was a difficult journey for me. Cancer was a difficult journey for me. But I survived!
Now I deal with my new normal. I am facing issues with my weight, early menopause, and intimacy. As time goes by, I am able to address each of these. For my weight, I am working out and eating healthier. I realize I will not be the fastest, but I WILL finish. As for early menopause, well, does anyone ever figure this one out? And as far as intimacy after cancer, I have started seeing a physical therapist for sexual issues. I am confident this, too, will improve. The hard part for me has been for my mind to realize my body still needs time.
Looking back, I am very blessed to have had proactive doctors and a supportive husband. You don’t have to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and you don’t have to run a marathon, but do challenge yourself to LIVE like you have never LIVED before. I am not happy I had cancer, but I am happy to be bonded forever with an elite group of women.
NOTE: Shannon is the founder of Teal Diva, a non-profit organization whose mission is to celebrate life.