Jessica's family is fourth family that I have gifted a session to this year that has been immediately affected by cancer. Thank you Jessica for sharing your story. To read more about signs and symptoms go to www.ovarian.org. To follow Jessica's journey, you can follow her on Instagram @tribecancer.
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through the process is the bravest thing that we will ever do” - Brene Brown
This story is a very difficult one for me to write but also a very important one. I hope it helps others get diagnosed earlier, I hope it helps doctors see the signs and I hope it lets others know they are not alone.
About me: I love to exercise - run half marathons, lift weights, do yoga, barre classes - you name it all exercise is my favorite. I have a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition, I love to cook healthy homemade meals for my family and others. I had two daughters - one when I was 24 and the other when I was 31. They were breastfed for 15 months each. My grandmother, mother and 5 aunts have all been lucky and have never had any female cancer or cancer at all. I tell you this because all of these things decrease your risk of Ovarian Cancer. But in August 2018, at the age of 41 years old, I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer; a cancer known as the silent killer. It was not so silent but it did go undetected due to lack of symptom awareness and lack of a screening test.
In October 2017, I was in horrible pain. I arrived at an ER triage vomiting from abdominal pain and I left with a CT scan that said I had a 5cm cyst on my left ovary. I was sent to my obgyn who gave me birth control and said that would resolve it. I had symptoms but like most women I did not want to complain. I was told it was relatively normal. I had mild bloating - maybe I wasn't working out as hard. I had stomach pain off and on - maybe a food sensitivity. I had abnormal bleeding - possibly perimenopause my obgyn had said. I complained to her about the severity of my cramps even when not on my cycle and the bleeding - the blood was translucent and just not my normal. The birth control did not agree with me. I stopped taking it and managed my symptoms trying to take as little NSAIDs as possible.
In August 2018, I was visiting family in Canada. I felt off as I often had the past year. I palpitated my abdomen and felt a large hard spot in the center of my pelvis. I called my obgyn back in Austin, Tx immediately. The following Friday, I had an ultrasound and CA 125 test. I was booked for a cyst removal on Monday as I was told this was very unlikely to be cancerous. I was told I was too young. Monday morning as I was heading to the ER, the doctor called. She said the CA 125 came back at 190 but this was still not concerning to her and she would go ahead with the surgery. If only I knew then what I know now.
Post surgery, the doctor told my husband the cyst had ruptured but it was not cancer. Fast forward to noon the next day, the doctor comes in and says you have an epithelial ovarian cancer. How? What? The fear and confusion hit like a mack truck. My husband and I immediately started trying to figure it out. I called my mom - she flew in. The whirlwind of collecting my tissue samples and pathology and getting to the best doctor ensued.
The following Monday, I was in the gynecology unit at MD Anderson. Through a miracle that started with a text conversation with a dear friend from Switzerland, I was not only at MD Anderson but I had the support of the best advocate (the wife of the late MD Anderson President) and two dear souls that sat with us in that waiting room walking me through this time. I was diagnosed with Clear Cell Ovarian Cancer - a rare, aggressive and chemo resistant form. I met with my doctor. He was very poised, intellectual and ready to take care of me. He evaluated the risks with the utmost care. I immediately knew this was a good match for me. We made a plan. I was going to be the best patient. I was strong. I had been training for this my whole life. My lifestyle was going to help me beat this, at least this was what I had to believe. I needed to feel I could participate in the success of beating this cancer. I needed a focus.
I had a debulking surgery 3 weeks later. They did a complete hysterectomy, oophorectomy, and removed the omentum. The abdominal incision allowed them to get samples as high up as the top of my ribs. They all came back clear. However, the surgeon found part of the original cyst and its blood supply as well as another small piece (?not sure whether it was also from the original cyst or another adjacent cancer) had been left in the prior surgery - Stage was unclear 1C or 2? Regardless, it was aggressive and I needed to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. I focused on healing as quickly as I could. My husband and mom walked upwards of 18 -24000 steps each day as they took shifts watching over me in my hospital room. I was told to start trying to walk laps around the nurses desk. I walked them every hour. I was going to will myself to be cancer free.
The next part of the plan would be 6 cycles of chemotherapy every 21 days. What it looked like: a lot of family and friend support, a dog that would not leave my side for an entire week until I could get up and move to the sofa, a lot of breakfast tacos and smoothies (the only things I could stomach) and a final week of many 3 mile walks to keep my strength before pulling out of my driveway to go back for the next cycle. I completed my 6 cycles in just over 4 months with a few short delays and an allergic reaction to one of the chemo drugs.
I am now 9 months cancer free. I am a lucky one. It is my job to work to help raise money for research, it is my job to help make you and others aware of the symptoms, it is my job to be brave enough to share my story, it is my job to keep going!