Beating the Odds
I had many of the symptoms. Unfortunately, I didn’t know it. I knew something was wrong but ovarian cancer never, ever crossed my mind. It didn’t cross my doctor’s mind either – even when she sent me to a urologist for an ultra-sound.
Six months later, I was in the emergency room after experiencing pains in my stomach on the right side. My husband and I were concerned that it was appendicitis. The ER doctor asked, “On what side did you have the pain?” He couldn’t understand why I said the right because my left ovary was surrounded by a huge mass. I was diagnosed with stage IIIc ovarian cancer. That was on a Tuesday in November of 2006. The next day I met with a gynecological oncologist and the following Monday I had a complete hysterectomy and debulking, which means the doctor tried to scrape every bit of cancer tissue out of my abdomen. He was pretty pleased with the surgery but much to my disappointment, he insisted I still had to have chemotherapy.
That was the beginning of my cancer journey. This November, I will celebrate five years – and my life.
Even though my doctor discouraged me from getting genetic testing because there was no breast cancer or ovarian cancer in any close relative, at the urging of others, I did. My genetic counselor didn’t think I’d get a positive result. Just weeks later, she called to say that I was BRCA2 positive. My three choices of action were more regular monitoring, taking medication to minimize the chance of breast cancer, or a prophylactic mastectomy. When I told my mother about the possibility of a prophylactic mastectomy, she burst out, “Well, you are not going to do THAT!” I read a few books, talked to a few people, and mulled over the decision for many months. A year later, I decided to have a prophylactic double mastectomy and reconstruction. While it was a difficult surgery, I have not for one second regretted it.
I’ve met a number of people with ovarian cancer in the last nearly five years and I can say, I’ve been very lucky. And everywhere I turn – my therapist, a neighbor, my doctor’s office – people ask if I’d be willing to speak with other newly diagnosed women. I never hesitate to share my experience and answer their questions. I am a journalist and my editor, knowing my background, asked me to write a story about Sharsheret’s Founder Rochelle Shoretz. I had not been familiar with Sharsheret before then. After writing my story, I contacted Sharsheret’s Link Program Coordinator and immediately offered to join Sharsheret’s Ovarian Cancer Program. I’m always ready to speak with women who are newly diagnosed, to offer rays of hope and suggested books to read. When I speak to other women, I always learn something from them as well.
But most important, I think, is for all of us to realize that we’re not alone on this cancer journey. No matter how close your family and friends are, the women who walk in our shoes understand our situation better than anyone else. And we can be a comfort to each other.
By: Jan Jaben-Eilon of Marietta, Georgia, Sharsheret Peer Supporter