Lucky – An Ovarian Cancer Survivor’s Story

Guest Post by Marcia Donziger, our Founder and Chief Mission Officer

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which has personal meaning for me.  Here’s why.

As a 15-year survivor of Stage IIIc ovarian cancer, I am lucky.  According the data, only 22% of women live another 10 years.  Although I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, I do remember the smallest details of my diagnosis day.

It was March 1997 when I was living the “normal” life of a 27-year old – newly married, just bought a house, working full-time, and traveling.  That’s when I started feeling some vague symptoms like bloating and abdominal discomfort.

I asked my doctor for antibiotics assuming I had a bladder infection.

Never in a million years would I have guessed a grapefruit-sized tumor was growing on my left ovary.

“Could it be cancer?” I asked.

“No”, my doctor was adamant. “You’re too young to have cancer.”

On March 31, 1997, I was wheeled into the pre-op room on a gurney and started on an IV.  That’s when the medical assistant came in with a clipboard.

“Sign at the bottom”, he yawned, apparently bored.  I squinted to read the small print.  “I consent it is possible…. to die…or have a hysterectomy…”

I looked up at the assistant in a panic.  DIE?  HYSTERECTOMY?  Sure, I knew there was risk in surgery to remove a benign tumor, but I hadn’t considered the possibility of a hysterectomy or death.

My doctor had told me verbatim “You’ll be back to work in a week.” These risks were never discussed.

After five hours of surgery, I woke up in the recovery room, my body uncontrollably thrashing around the gurney in pain.  I still felt as if knives were stabbing through my belly and back.

The doctor was hovering over me and matter-of-factly said, “I’m sorry.  You have Ovarian Cancer.  You’ve had a Complete Hysterectomy.”

So I lived.  But the other worst-case scenario happened, and I was devastated.  What I heard loud and clear was “Cancer. You. Can’t. Have. Children.”

My New Normal:  Ovarian Cancer spread throughout my abdomen and lymph nodes resulted in a hysterectomy.  Infertility meant experiencing intense grief and loss for the future I had dreamed of.  Six months of chemotherapy meant an endurance game of illness, and if I was lucky, recovery.

Halfway through chemo treatments, I celebrated my 28th birthday.  But there wasn’t a lot to celebrate.  My marriage was dying.  Cancer puts tremendous stress on a couple.  Some couples can handle it together like champs.  We didn’t.  We divorced one year from the date of my diagnosis.

There I was – 28, ravaged physically and emotionally, divorced, and not looking forward to life in the single world, as a cancer survivor without the ability to have children.  But that’s a topic for another blog.

In 2003, I remarried to a wonderful man.  Today my husband and I are the proud parents of twin boys – now age 7 – who were born with the help of an anonymous egg donor and surrogate mom, Katrese.

Katrese and I became fast friends during the pregnancy, which was very healing for me. She was even one of the founding board members of MyLifeLine.org.

Today – I feel like the definition of lucky.  I get to help MyLifeLine.org grow as the Chief Mission Officer and be an advocate on behalf of survivors and the people who love them.  I get to be a Mom to 2 incredible children.  It is the hardest job – the cliché is true – but also the best job.  Without the ovarian cancer diagnosis that started my journey, I would not be so lucky.

To learn more about ovarian cancer’s warning signs, or how to support a loved one, visit our partners:

National Ovarian Cancer Alliance:

http://www.ovariancancer.org

Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance:

http://www.colo-ovariancancer.org/

Sharsheret for Jewish women:

http://www.sharsheret.org/

If you feel inspired, Friday September 7th is Wear Teal Day.  Help educate the women you know about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. You could save a life.

MyLifeLine.org Staff in Teal

One thought on “Lucky – An Ovarian Cancer Survivor’s Story

  1. Jill

    Marcia — Thanks so much for sharing your story . . . It’s always humbling and inspiring to hear.
    Your passion for your work, and your spunk and sparkle everyday is a testament to hope.
    I just talked with a women today for whom this story may make a world of difference & I can’ wait to share it with her. — Jill M.

    Reply

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