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:
Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance:
Sharsheret for Jewish women:
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