Surprise, Surprise — I’m Still Alive!

Surprise, Surprise — I'm Still Alive!

By: Annette McElhiney

My German maternal grandmother, Matie Frederika Liebe Carolina Block Eilers lived all her life on a farm in Missouri. At age 75, she mowed her yard with a push lawnmower and then drove herself to town where she died on the examining table of the local small town Doctor. My mother, Fern Catherine Eilers Bennington endured a triple bypass at age 65 in Denver where she came to visit my husband and I. She recovered, went back to the farm, but asked on her 75th Birthday, if my husband would take her to the local senior citizens’ center dance and dance with her. He did! She lived alone with congestive heart failure for another 10 years; had Slick Willie, her cat put to sleep; checked herself into a nursing home; and shortly, thereafter, died. So I always knew I had some huge footsteps to follow in terms of both living and dying!

Imagine my surprise at age 67, when with absolutely no maternal family history of cancer, and a fraternal history only of 2 aunts who after 70 had breast cancer but didn’t die of it, I was diagnosed with III C ovarian cancer. As a former nurse, I feared ovarian cancer above all other cancers! I wasn’t completely surgically de-bulked and, in 2008, was given a 25-33 percent chance of living 5 years.

Well I am very surprised today because I am 75 years old and am 6 months away from being NED 8 years! Why, am I still alive? I haven’t a clue! I had much good fortune in being advised to have Avastin as a front line maintenance drug and I seemed to respond positively to it. But if that is why I’m alive, I don’t know and other people seem to have differing opinions well.   I’ve always had good health and a very healthy immune system, but I feel both survivor’s guilt about that and also extremely fortunate!

So why am I writing today? I won’t be having a birthday cake with 75 candles as that could require calling out the Carlsbad, CA fire department to dampen the flames. But Instead, I’m giving myself the gift of passing on to you ovarian cancer survivors and others, a number of quotes from my wonderful poet/mentor Emily Dickinson. Her inspiring words have helped me stay positive, appreciate each day that takes ovarian cancer research forward, strive to live joyfully as many years as I can, encourage other ovarian cancer survivors to heal, educate the public about this disease, and advocate for funding and support of research. So, I’m happily moving forward and hope you will as well.

So to each reader, enjoy each day being “you” as even us “nobodies” are important! I remember over five years ago, my doctor saying she had just attended a 70th birthday party of one of her patients. Having always read that older ovarian cancer patients did less well in terms of survival than younger ones, her words drew my attention! Somewhere in the back of my “Althea/Annette” mind, I thought, I can do that! But I must honestly admit I have already exceeded my own expectations in outliving my “expiration date!”

So never give up on yourself! You are important and deserve to have as many birthdays and “joyful” times as possible. I am choosing to plan my 80th birthday party! I’m even alerting my doctor and my CA oncology nurse as well as family, friends and supporters to expect invitations. I may not ever attend my 80th birthday party myself, but think of the joyful times I can have ahead checking out websites and compiling my guest list. As my doctor and nurse say, “Live each day joyfully!” I do and I hope you will as well!

Read more of Annette’s stories on The Clearity Portal by clicking here.

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