Hello! Sitting here trying to type out my story thus far is challenging. I'll start from where I believe is the beginning.
I am 34 years old, recently married to the love of my life and have no children. I began having lower abdominal pain in March of 2020, right around the time the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. I was laid off from my job, spending my days at home, rather sedentary when I began noticing the pain. It started out as little twinges throughout my belly, never on the same side, same intensity, same duration. I still got my period every month for the same duration and flow. I chalked it up to the stress of the pandemic, not working and the fear of the unknown. I went back to work 6 weeks after the initial lockdown and the pains continued. Again, I chalked it up to the stress of the environment I was working in. These pains would sometimes be a small ache on my side or have me doubled over crying. I chose to ignore the pains as COVID had made all appointments with doctors so much more and I didn't want to think anything could be wrong with me. I felt relatively healthy other than the weight that I was gaining. Again, I blamed COVID-19. I didn't feel sick at all.
Flash forward to July 2021 when I finally give in and call my GP and tell him about the aches and pains. He asks where the pain is happening the most and I tell him on the lower right side of my pelvis. Of course, this is a phone appointment and he can't determine what could be causing this type of pain. He asks me if I could be pregnant and I tell him no and he asks how I could be sure. I tell him I just started my period and he is concerned that it may be an ectopic pregnancy and asks me to take an at home pregnancy test. He also sends me for blood work and asks me to come in for a physical appointment later in the week. I get the test, take it and it is negative. I go and get my bloodwork done as well. During the appointment he palpates my stomach and pelvis on the right side, where he says he can feel something, but suspects it could be an ovarian cyst. He asks if my husband and I are sexually active and/or trying to get pregnant. I tell him that we are and that I am trying to get pregnant. He determines I need an ultrasound. He asks me if I feel sick at all besides the pain, weight loss, loss of appetite, anything and I say no, other than gaining a lot of weight and he asked how much I've gained and I couldn't be sure, but my stomach is extremely large and hard. So at the end of August, I go for the ultrasound. They do an external and an internal exam and I am on my way. A few hours later I get a call from my GP telling me they have found a mass on the right side. I broke down crying with a million questions running through my mind. Was it cancer? Was it a cyst? How long has it been growing in my guts? What's the plan now? He immediately sent me for a CT scan 2 days later and asked me to call his office when the test was complete. Again, a few hours later I got a call from him and he let me know that there were 2 large masses in my abdomen. The mass on the right side appeared to measure 24 cm x 6 cm in length and the one on the left measured approx. 15 cm x 4 cm. This is why I was feeling aches and pains throughout my sides and pelvis. Though he couldn't be sure, it appeared it could be ovarian cancer and he was sending a referral to a gynecologist.
My case was immediately referred to a gyne oncologist and in mid-September I met the oncologist. It was a surreal experience. I still didn't feel sick, I just had pains in my pelvis. I don't have cancer, right? The gyne onc's couldn't diagnose anything because they didn't know. The only way they could be sure what was going on inside my belly was with surgery. So at 34, newly married, I had a really tough decision to make: have surgery to remove both tumors, ovaries, tubes, uterus, etc and put myself in early menopause with never having children of my own, or allow them to take the larger tumor and one ovary, do pathology and see what it comes back as and possibly endure a second surgery removing everything any way. How do you make this choice when you thought your life would include children of your own? It was devastating. No one could help me make this choice and the oncologist wanted an answer for surgery in 1 week. My husband and I argued about the course of treatment because we both wanted children and I felt extremely selfish for wanting to live a long healthy life, and wanting to give up any chance of carrying my own children. We were referred to a fertility specialist who, although was very thorough was not optimistic that even removing the larger tumor there would be any viable ovary to harvest eggs from. So I still had no answers. I was lost in a sea of what if's. What if I have surgery and they take everything and it's not cancer? What if it is cancer? Tumors this large couldn't be a sign it was an early stage cancer...So I decided that I would ask the doctors to take the larger tumor and 1 ovary and try to preserve fertility UNLESS they got in there and it was much much worse than they thought it to be. I signed the consent for surgery and walked out still unsure of my decision. It felt like the best compromise of the choices, I could be okay with that...right?
I guess I should mention as well that I am an early childhood educator working in an early learning environment with children as young as 8 months old and as old as 5 years old. It was extremely difficult to go in to work every day with parents telling us they are expecting again and feigning excitement knowing that will probably never be me. My stomach was so distended it began to look like I was pregnant and I even had a parent ask when I was taking time off, because you know, the pregnancy...That was a difficult discussion to have and they walked away red with embarrassment when I said I had some "medical issues" that was causing my stomach to look like that.
I finally got the date for my surgery and it was November 4th, 2021. It felt like I was finally going to get some answers. Everyone that knew what was going on kept talking to me as if I was dying and looking at me like I wasn't coming back to work. I just wanted to scream "I'M NOT DYING!!!" at everyone but I knew that wouldn't help. After all, I very well might be dying, no one could tell me either way. Then I get a call: my oncologist had broken her hand and my surgery was pushed back. Thankfully, they were able to reschedule it for 4 days later.
So Monday November 8th, at 6:15 in the morning, I had to admit myself to the hospital. I was so scared because I didn't know what they were going to find and my husband couldn't be with me. My anxiety was at an all time high and when they took my blood pressure it was 141/100. I asked if I could at least have my phone with me so my husband could hear what the new oncologist and anesthesiologist's plan was. It the kindness of 1 nurse who was able to convince the doctor to let my husband come up and be with me while they discussed the plan. I don't remember much of the conversation, but having my husband with me definitely helped ease some anxiety. They were going to try and preserve fertility if they could. And then I don't remember getting wheeled to the OR but my husband says they asked if I could walk to the table and get on it and apparently I said yes. I woke up 3 hours later in recovery, groggy, disoriented and wondering what happened during surgery.
When I finally got on to the ward, my husband and my mom were both waiting for me and I don't remember much. My doctor came in to tell me again what happened during surgery (he told me after surgery, but I have no recollection of the conversation). I'm glad I had my mom and my husband both there because I recall very little from this conversation as well. He told me he was certain it was epithelial ovarian cancer and they actually removed 3 tumors from my belly: 1 the size of a large watermelon, 1 the size of a smaller watermelon (akin to the size of a cataloupe) and a smaller one from my omentum the size of a baseball. They also found some small tumors on my bladder and rectum and were able to scrape them away leaving both intact. My doctor was hopeful it was borderline epithelial cancer and I would only need surgery as a course of treatment and then monitored every 3 months for the next 5 years. He said it could possibly be low-grade epithelial cancer in which case I would need chemotherapy as well. In the hours after surgery I must have asked my husband to tell me 4 times what the doctor said. It was hard to comprehend then, and even today 1 week later: I have cancer. I still don't feel sick, not like you'd expect someone with cancer to be. I have energy, I want to go back to work, I want to be busy but I am waiting once again. I feel great, almost like myself once again, finding myself getting stronger every day.