No, not the long-running TV series!
Five years ago, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It wasn’t an easy journey. The surgeries and chemotherapy kicked my butt, and I’m left with some lingering issues from the systemic platinum-based poisoning.
And now here I am! My oncologist recently whooped and cheered at my 5-year follow-up appointment — she told me I’ve graduated and gave me big hugs! Hooray!!!!
I’m a survivor!
Of course I’m elated, but the complex rollercoaster of emotions I’ve had have really surprised me. I’m in the minority of women (40%) who survive ovarian cancer past 5 years, and I’m very grateful to my team of doctors, nurses, phlebotomists, medical assistants, receptionists and cancer center volunteers. Having seen them on a regular basis since July 2014, I will miss them, especially my oncologist because she cared for me so well, advocated for me when a heart surgeon didn’t think a procedure needed to be done, gave me mental tools to get through the journey, and has always treated me like an intelligent person when answering my questions and giving me information. I’ll still see her once a year, and maybe more when we run into each other at our local Target after work, or at a garden center, or a clothing store, or at the library where I work. (Such is the nature of a small city!)
When I found out I had cancer, I didn’t really want to make the news public. I wanted to keep it close and not be defined by the disease. But then I started chemotherapy and my hair started to fall out. People would notice that I looked different, so either I controlled my story or I let others, so I told the world via a social media post.
I’ll never forget the support I received (and continue to) through the journey. Cards, calls, visits, flowers, and messages from coworkers, friends, and family near and far brought light to some dark days. I still have all the cards I received in the mail, and occasionally look at the bundled stack and feel the love all over again. Sharing the cancer adventure long-distance with a childhood friend going through hers at the same time was an incredible source of strength, and we’ve had the great joy of being able to see each other and skip down a busy D.C. street, frolicking at being alive and well!
I’ve experienced exuberant joy, and I’ve relived the deep sadness of losing my sister Lana to brain cancer several years ago and now not being able to tell her I survived. I feel guilty for surviving when she didn’t, but also very happy for my family that they didn’t have to deal with losing someone they love and that I’m still here. I’ve laughed a lot and cried a lot, sometimes over things that were totally unrelated.
Cancer changed me in many ways. I hate the fatigue of it all that keeps me from making all the art I have ideas for. Maybe the fatigue will go away, or am I just old enough now that this is where I am? I’m more vulnerable and insecure, but at the same time much tougher, and I don’t faint every time I have a blood draw like I used to!
Yes, I’m celebrating, and I want you to celebrate with me! We need to celebrate each others’ joys while on earth!
But as I celebrate I keep in mind that others are dealing with difficulties in life. Being alive is a preexisting condition, and who amongst us lives in a perfect state that doesn’t require some sort of attention now and then?
My plan is to celebrate by being kind, compassionate, and empathetic to my fellow humans. We all need it!
The image above is “87° 36′ W x 41° 53′ N no. 12,” an installation I created a month before my surgery, when we suspected I had cancer. It was a very stormy day, and the wind was so strong that I was nearly knocked off my feet. The unsettled image serendipitously captured my life at the time.