by Annette M.
I am 70 years old; a former RN; retired BA, MA, and PHD professor of English and Women’s Studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver; wife; mother; grandmother;, and ovarian cancer survivor. In my 20s, I had endometriosis and irritable bowel syndrome, but neither got worse before my OC diagnosis. My only symptom was a tiny amount of post menopausal bleeding in June and July of 2008. I called my Dr. and was there in an hour for a vaginal sonogram. I watched the technician do the sonogram and when a dark sheet come on the screen, I knew I was in trouble. Minutes later, a Dr. I’d never met, told me I had ovarian cancer. I kept asking “but how can I have ovarian cancer when I have no symptoms except for the bleeding?” My son who is in Oncology Management told me that Bevacizamab, in a clinical trial GOG 218 (given in combination with Taxol and Carboplatin for 6 infusions and then every three weeks for 12 months alone as maintenance), looked promising. I decided to follow that protocol.
I went to a gynocologist/oncologist and one week later had a hysterectomy, oophrectomy, ommenectomy and debulking. Immediately after surgery, I asked my prognosis. My gyn/onc told me I had Ovarian Cancer III C and a 25-30% chance of living 5 years. I was devastated having gone from being healthy one day to fighting a life threatening disease the next.
Four years earlier, my husband and I had bought place in Palm Desert, CA for the winters. So, I had 4 infusions in Denver and the last 4, plus maintenance, in Rancho Mirage, CA. My general oncologist there introduced me to a well known gyn/on also the director of the Women’s Gynecological Cancer Program at Cedars Sinai in LA. On my first visit, she hugged me and said “My job is to keep you alive for 10 years after which time there will be a cure.” Her words inspired me to hope and thus I have tremendous faith in her being on the “cutting edge” in both research and treatment. Because I believe a cure will come from personal targeted treatment, I asked her if a molecular profile of my tumor would be useful so that if, and when, the disease reoccurs, we know what treatment to use. She agreed it would be, and I contacted The Clearity Foundation for their services. Interestingly enough, my profile showed that I was high in VEGF and that a possible clinical trial agent for my first tumor would have been Bevacizumab.
Perhaps because I had Bevacizumab in my primary treatment, I’ve had 5 CT/PET scans showing no metastasis. My CA 125 ranges from 1-6 and I have few side effects from chemo except neuropathy and decreased stamina. Now I’m dealing emotionally with the uncertainty of having ovarian cancer. Consequently, as an amateur, I paint pictures of a gutsy feisty woman – the confident woman I want to be again – named Althea, the one who prompted me to demand Avastin as a part of my treatment and to find a Dr. who respects my thoughts and treats me as a partner. The name Althea means healer in Greek. By telling my story through text and pictures in a booklet called “Althea Re-balances her Life: ‘the emotional challenges one survivor faces after chemo for ovarian cancer’” I hopefully heal myself emotionally as well as others. The cover painting of Althea on a tight rope portrays humorously the delicate balance ovarian survivors face between being hopeful and yet terrified that the disease will return. The other pictures show Annette/Althea coping with life after chemo, etc. Currently the Cheryl Shackleford Foundation for Ovarian Cancer has printed and in Colorado is giving the booklet free of charge to women in treatment for ovarian cancer.