Oh, not the survivor part; that’s definitely preferable to the alternative. And in many ways I’ve been very lucky. I have excellent health insurance, awesome doctors who have managed to diagnose me early every time (and that’s not easy with ovarian cancer) and surgeons who were deft enough that all three times I’ve had clean margins on the pathology.
But three times?
This is not a matter of recurrence or metastases. I had breast cancer in 2008, spent most of the summer on chemotherapy and the winter on radiation therapy. No recurrence.
Then last summer I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Stage 1c, and I know I was very lucky that my doctor caught it. I had assumed that my difficulty in urination was due to diabetic neuropathy, but my doctor suggested one quick ultrasound test in her office. Two days later I had an appointment at the Women’s Cancer Center in Anchorage. (Keep in mind that problems with urination can be an early symptom of ovarian cancer, which is often symptomless until it is too late.) This tine the chemotherapy (precautionary) was much more severe, and I wound up spending about 18 hours a day sleeping for the third through fifth days after each infusion. Since both cancers were “women’s cancers” I was checked for the BRCA gene, but I have neither of the known dangerous variants.
Except a routine diagnostic mammogram (because of the previous breast cancer) showed up a very small suspicious spot in the other breast, which a biopsy showed was cancerous. I was just getting my hair back from the last time around! Surgery again (partial mastectomy because I wanted minimal impact on my type 1 diabetes) and I just “graduated” from radiation therapy on that one. I’ll be on Herceptin® infusion for most of another year, though my doctor didn’t want to give me any stronger chemotherapy right after the one for the ovarian cancer. I had a port installed (outpatient surgery and they didn’t even knock me out all the way) since I would be getting weekly infusions for a year, and my veins are getting hard to find.
A couple of things I want to say from the viewpoint of someone who’s dealt with cancer:
(1) Keep exercising as much as possible. With my balance so poor, it’s mostly stationary bicycling for me, but I kept up at least an hour or two a day throughout radiation therapy. I really think it helps.
(2) They tell you radiation therapy can produce sunburn-like effects on the skin. Effects, yes, but they’re more like zombie skin. Rotting rather than peeling, and downright painful (and itchy) near the end. So glad that mine’s over and I can put ointment on the skin!
(3) The Herceptin® is a breeze compared with either of the other chemotherapies.