As said to Nicole Audrey Spector
I was 48 when I felt a sudden, stabbing pain in my lower right abdomen. The pain came and went, and I wasn’t too worried about it at first.
But one night the pain became so intense that I thought I was going to die. I had a high fever and was seriously ill. My heart raced and sweat poured down my shaking body.
I was living alone and thought about calling an ambulance, but finally decided to spend the night. Finally I fell asleep. The next morning, I made an appointment with my health care provider (HCP), who was able to see me right away.
When I arrived, the nurse practitioner took one look at me and recognized that something was wrong. She was worried that I had appendicitis, so she put me in an ambulance and sent me to the nearest hospital. There I had a bunch of tests to figure out what was going on.
A CT scan and MRI revealed a huge, possibly cancerous, mass on my left ovary and a smaller, possibly cancerous, mass on my right ovary. It appeared that the movement of the lump on the left ovary was causing me pain in my lower right.
I remember looking at an image of the largest mass and feeling out of my body. I kept thinking, “So this is how people find out they can have cancer?
It may seem hard to believe, but I was not afraid. Helping to overcome any fear was the quality of my care. The ER doctor who treated me was respectful, easy to talk to and very responsive. He was in constant contact with my healthcare professional, who quickly reviewed all the tests and referred me to an amazing OB-GYN, Dr. Stone.
Dr. Stone, I quickly learned was passionate about self-advocacy. Like my emergency care team, his team was fantastic too. I was treated as an active participant in my own care rather than just receiving care. I always felt like a trusted partner in decisions surrounding my care and never had to fight to be heard.
There was no doubt that the ovary with the largest mass needed to be surgically removed right away. But it was not yet clear whether the lump was cancerous. It was important to know this as it would guide the next steps in the surgery. If the mass was cancerous, I would need a
radical hysterectomy remove my cervix, uterus, part of my vagina and nearby lymph nodes. Dr. Stone carefully explained everything to me beforehand, which allowed me to really think about what I wanted. I accepted the procedure if necessary.
During the operation, Dr. Stone’s team took a sample of the mass, froze it, and then did a biopsy on the spot. The biopsy confirmed that I had ovarian cancer and I immediately underwent a radical hysterectomy.
When I woke up after the operation, my mother came to tell me that I had ovarian cancer. She was devastated. But I was actually OK. I had never married or had children, and I always thought that this kind of life could be pleasant. But my mother taught me that being independent and alone is no less of a life than a life with a husband and children. It didn’t seem so sad to me to lose my reproductive organs. If that’s what it took to get rid of cancer, then that’s what we had to do.
I was able to have this peace thanks to my faith and my trust in God. I didn’t pray not to get cancer, or even not to die. I gave in to his plan and his love. This surrender helped me feel light and confident.
Shortly after the operation, I learned that I had made the right decision.
“You will recover 100%!” Dr. Stone told me.
Although the operation was a success, my battle with cancer was just beginning. Dr. Stone explained that because the ovaries move, they can spread microscopic cancer cells throughout your abdominal cavity. It would take me four months of chemotherapy to destroy them.
Tara Solo Art Exhibition, 2022 (Photo/Josiah Blackman)
The chemo was tough – even tougher than I thought. But I tried to have a positive attitude throughout. And there were actually some aspects that I found less traumatic than I had imagined. For example, I dreaded the idea of losing my hair, but I was proactive about it. I went to a local cancer resource center to get a free buzz cut and free wigs. I had so much fun trying on all of these wigs! It was like being at Disneyland. In fact, I had never been crazy about my natural hair. Wigs made me feel beautiful.
During chemo, I had to reduce some of my responsibilities at work. My co-workers and my community were incredibly supportive, and I opted for a part-time job. At first it was shocking. I’m an artist at heart, but I’ve always put that part of me aside so I can prioritize my daily work. But my experience with chemo helped me realize that I had to be an artist first and an employee second.
Even after chemo was done and I was declared disease free, I continued to deepen my relationship with myself as an artist. I ended up changing jobs and becoming a cancer self-management facilitator. Not only does this job fuel my passion for cancer advocacy work, it gives me more time to make art, which makes me happiest.
Cancer is horrible. It is a fact. But in my experience, it can also be transformative. I can honestly say, thanks to God, an incredible medical team, and the rise of my inner wisdom, that I am a better and more fulfilled human being today than I was before cancer.
This resource was created with the support of Merck.
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Our Real Women, Real Stories are the authentic experiences of real women. The views, opinions and experiences shared in these stories are not endorsed by HealthyWomen and do not necessarily reflect official HealthyWomen policy or position.
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