Melissa Bowen, Executive Director; Marcia Donziger, Founder and Chief Mission Officer; Tricia McEuen, Director of Administration
Guest Post by Marcia Donziger, our Founder and Chief Mission Officer
Did you know 1 in 71 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her lifetime? Each September we celebrate Ovarian Cancer Month in an effort to raise awareness about the vague symptoms that precede a diagnosis. At MyLifeLine.org, we partner with Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance, and Sharsheret, to promote ovarian cancer education, which we believe will save lives.
But for me…. ovarian cancer means more than collaborative partnerships. For me…. it’s personal.
As a woman diagnosed at the age of 27 with Stage IIIc ovarian cancer, I went through a dark time. According the stats, 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 (D-Day). Today, I’m 44 and grateful for every birthday.
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 said confidently. “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 crumbling. 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 dreading life in the single world, as a cancer survivor without the ability to have children. But that’s a topic for another blog.
Ten years ago, I got married to a wonderful man. Today my husband and I are the proud parents of twin boys – now age 8 – who were born with the help of an egg donor and surrogate mom, Katrese. She 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 grateful. Grateful for that traumatic day the C-Word crashed into my life and burned up the future I’d planned.
Today, I get to rebuild my future and help MyLifeLine.org grow as the Chief Mission Officer and be an advocate on behalf of survivors and the people who love them.
Today, I get to be a Mom to 2 incredible children.
Yes, that’s right. Today, I am grateful for the ovarian cancer diagnosis that turned my life upside down and caused me to go down a new, uncharted path.
Today, I am confident there is beauty beyond the pain and the fear.
Today, I ask you, what are you grateful for?
To learn more about ovarian cancer’s warning signs, or how to support a loved one, visit our partners:
Ovarian Cancer National Alliance
Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance
Sharsheret for Jewish women
USC’s Gratitude Campaign