I've never felt I was lucky. My grandparents and parents worked hard to get where they were in life. When I became an adult, I made a lot of mistakes early on and had to work that much harder. But I found myself in my forties completing college, raising three children, and living in the country with my husband Jim. It was a very busy time: three children in dance, softball, basketball, soccer, band and track, and both Jim and me working full time with a hobby business of raising Christmas trees. I was very active: volunteer, board member for a nonprofit women's shelter, church, and fundraising; and I did crazy things like walk the "Portland to Coast," and rode my bike for miles along the old Columbia Highway with my son Jesse. I was in good shape, and rarely ill.
Regarding my family's medical history, there is alcoholism and cancer. When I turned 30, my mom had her leg amputated due to complications of ovarian cancer. She was 56 and died a year later. My siblings (I was the oldest of four) and I were devastated and mom's passing created a lot of stress and grief in our lives for a long time. I remember going to my doctor, telling her about my mom and asking her to always test me for cancer. It was my understanding that I was tested each year at my annual checkup. This went on for several years.
Then sometime in 2014-2015, my doctor left the practice. I was bounced around, and often saw a nurse practitioner. In 2016 I saw either a doctor or nurse practitioner after I complained of abdominal pain. I was prescribed a medication for a urinary tract infection. We were out of town a few weeks later and I had extreme low abdomen pain again, and called the doctor's office, which prescribed another regimen of medication over the phone. This time, the medication caused my stomach to burn. I again went back, bringing my husband Jim with me. I voiced my concerns about cancer and was flatly told, "Cheryl, you do not have cancer." When we walked out of that office in Troutdale, Jim and I agreed to find another doctor. A few months earlier we had moved to SW Portland, and I got an appointment with a new doctor.
As luck would have it, my appointment was canceled due to snow. If that wasn't enough, shortly after completing my prep for my colonoscopy, I received a call that it, too, was canceled due to snow (yes I cried).
Finally I saw the new doctor. In early February of 2017 (close to my birthday) I received a call from my doctor informing me that I had two large masses on my ovaries. She referred me to a gynecologic oncologist. After a CT scan and other tests, I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer. I had major surgery in late February followed by chemotherapy through the month of August. I had genetic testing and learned that I have the BRCA gene mutation and have passed it on to one of my daughters, Kelsey. This was the worst part of my diagnosis.
As I reflect back on my "unlucky year," I can't help but be thankful for what I had including a wonderful doctor who listened to me; the care and concern of my Gyn Onc and awesome nurses; and the staff who informed us how to have my children tested and how to walk through this time in my life.
I am thankful for my siblings and family who told me they loved me and who were there throughout the entire ordeal; my three-year old granddaughter who looked at me after my hair fell out and said "you got a haircut!;" and my husband who held me as I cried and who stepped down from his busy job to care for me. I am also thankful for my coworkers who sent a filled basket of books, journals, healthy snacks and warm slippers; the neighbors and church members who prayed for me and fed my family; and my daughter who now works with her doctor to make informed decisions for the future. I also have a circle of new friends at Ovarian Cancer Alliance, and look forward to future engagements with them.
Whenever I have doubts about my health, I check in with my doctor. It hasn't even been one year since the end of chemotherapy, so I have to tell myself it's okay that I said to a childcare provider while working "do you keep your infant bottles in the oven?" when I meant the refrigerator (LOL).
I'm back walking with my husband and dog, have traveled to my daughter Lindsey's home in Wisconsin and back by myself, and look forward to a trip to Hawaii soon.
I'd say I'm pretty lucky after all.