I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend and an Emergency Room Physician Assistant and on June 4, 2013, at the age of 36, I became a Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer Patient and Survivor.
For several months before my diagnosis, I experienced classic symptoms of frequent urination, change in bowel habits, a poochy abdomen and low back pain. I wrote them off to the new woos of being in my mid 30’s.
I have always eaten healthy and had an active lifestyle. However, as my symptoms worsened, the pressure in my abdomen intensified preventing me from going on my daily run, so I walked 4 miles a day instead.
It wasn’t until I felt what I thought was a vaginal mass (which ended up being a 13cm ovarian tumor) that I made an appointment with my primary care provider, who got me in immediately. I underwent a battery of tests and the next day saw my GYN who told me, “You have Ovarian Cancer and it is quite advanced.”
The following day, I saw a gynecology oncologist, who abruptly stated, “You have a 30-50% chance of being alive in 3-5 years.” It was at that moment amidst the shock and fear that my faith and instinct to fight kicked in.
Later that day I underwent an 8 ½ hour surgery, had 2 blood transfusions and woke up in the Intensive Care Unit. Life as I knew it came to a screeching halt, while all around me, the world kept going.
After 15 days in the hospital, I left with an ileostomy bag which would remain attached to my abdomen for the next 7 months. Four months of chemotherapy left me with several side effects including a bald head, neuropathy in my hands and an extra 20 pounds.
In November 2013, I was declared in remission. I resumed my normal life of working and traveling. It was my hope that cancer was behind me.
Every summer, I head to Martha’s Vineyard to work and relax by the beach. This past June, just 18 months into remission and only 2 days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, I was diagnosed with a recurrence. To say I was devastated is an understatement, but I prayed for strength to endure all that the coming months would bring. Again I started chemotherapy, while still enjoying life between treatments.
In September, despite being on chemo, I met my entire family; parents, 6 siblings and their spouses, and my 10 adorable nieces and nephews ages 9 to newborn, at Disneyland. We were supposed to be celebrating my 2-year cancer-free anniversary, but instead, we celebrated life. It was a joy to be together as a family and to watch the expressions on the children’s faces when they saw Mickey and Minnie for the first time.
Just 5 weeks ago, I finished 7 months of additional chemotherapy. I was hoping this regimen would cure me. However, after a PET scan last week, I was told there are still signs of cancer in my pelvis. For now I’m going to take a chemo holiday to see what happens with the blood levels.
It’s hard to plan my life because of the “what if’s.” Even though my future is uncertain, I’m not going to stop preparing and planning.
Because of cancer I will never have the opportunity to bear a child. I worry that it will prevent me from finding someone who will love me regardless of the train wreck of scars on my torso and not knowing what my future might hold.
While cancer has taken quite a bit from me, it can’t take everything. It cannot take from me the love I have for my family, especially my nieces and nephews, who bring more joy and happiness to my life than I ever thought possible. It breaks my heart that they are too familiar with the words chemo and cancer. At their young ages, they can’t possibly understand the depth of its meaning, but they have visited me in the hospital, cheered me up during chemo treatments, and literally fallen to their knees in prayer when they have seen me crying in pain and disappointment. They are expecting a miracle and so am I.
I am extremely grateful and humbled to each of the 475 people here tonight who are supporting not only Colleen’s Dream, but my dream for an early detection test, and a world without ovarian cancer.
It’s too late for an early detection test to help me. But it is not too late to help the thousands of women who will one day be diagnosed. If their disease can be caught early, when it is most curable, it may spare them from the surgeries, chemotherapy and uncertainty that I have come to know.
I have ovarian cancer, but ovarian cancer does not have me. Until it puts me in the grave, I’m not giving up. I still have a lot of fight left in me and I have big plans for my future.
I plan to fall in love and somehow be a mother. I bought a house this week, and will travel to New Orleans in the coming weeks. Later this year, I am looking forward to a vacation with my girlfriends to celebrate our 40th birthday’s.
I am determined to live life to the fullest by finding joy in my journey. I am enduring this trial with a positive attitude and a smile on my face, by making each day count. I encourage all of you to do the same. One never knows what life has in store.
Thank you so much for your time and support. I’d like to leave you with a favorite quote of mine by Thomas S. Monson:
“To live greatly, we must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility.”