In 2018, I was 23 years old and had gotten the opportunity to enter the New York City Marathon through a charity. By July 19 I was already running over 13 miles a day and working to prepare myself mentally. My older sister was running the race as well so there was an added element of competition to it.
Sometime in July, I started to feel extremely bloated for days on end, even if I hadn’t eaten a lot of food. I thought it was just my digestive system out to get to me again. With the guidance of a friend’s mom who is a nurse, I made an appointment with a gastroenterologist. At this point it looked like I was a few months pregnant but I was 10,000% positive that wasn’t the case.
After a quick CT set up by my gastroenterologist, I found myself sitting with my parents in a gynecologist’s office being told that I had a mass on one of my ovaries. In just two short weeks my life was turned upside down. I remained optimistic though. The oncologist didn’t know if the mass was malignant or not so I was able to go on with my everyday life until the surgery approached. I was confident that the best-case scenario was going to prevail. I was going to go in for outpatient surgery, the doctor would go in laparoscopically and remove the mass, they would find out it was benign, and we’d all be on our merry way. Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this if that was the case.
The weekend before my surgery was set to happen, I went to Washington D.C. to visit a friend. Up until that point, the mass hadn’t bothered me much besides feeling like I had a watermelon growing inside of me. That weekend, I experienced excruciating pain that I was unable to pinpoint. It felt like I had a knife slicing through my abdomen. Needless to say, the weekend trip was cut short but I survived the Amtrak ride from D.C. to New York City in one piece. My family and I went to the ER the day before my surgery since I was unable to deal with the pain. It wasn’t until after surgery that I learned that the mass had burst.
Since the mass was so large my oncologist couldn’t go in laparoscopically and had to make a C-section incision instead. From there she realized that the mass was “friable” (easily crumbled) and continued to break so she had to remove samples from other parts of my organs to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread. In the end, my right ovary and fallopian tube were removed as well as my appendix and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer stage 1c3.
Although the doctor delivered less than ideal news, I knew it was just the beginning of my journey and I had to keep fighting going forward. After I was released from the hospital, I went through the process of freezing my eggs. Recovering from surgery was one of the most difficult things I had to go through. I couldn’t walk up the stairs, couldn’t get in a car, and walking from my bed to the bathroom was like taking part in the marathon I had planned to run.
Egg freezing is no walk in the park either. I could only imagine the other patients questioning why a 23-year-old single girl like myself was there freezing her eggs. The nurses questioned it as well until I told them I had cancer. After 12 days, 9 blood tests and 33 injections, I became the proud owner of 22 frozen eggs–and I still am to this day.
There was no stopping after the egg retrieval. Chemotherapy was the next hurdle in my journey. While the pathology report indicated that the cancer had not spread to other tissue my doctor wanted to make sure it was all gone since the tumor had burst. It started with the implementation of a port. I remember I had gone on a date Thursday night knowing that I was getting my port in the next morning. I usually get nervous before dates but after getting diagnosed with cancer everything else seemed so silly to stress over.
The following Monday I had my port in and we were ready for chemo. That first night was the most nauseous I have ever felt but with the help of some anti-nausea drugs, I was able to rest in preparation for the next day. I received three rounds of chemotherapy that lasted three weeks a piece. The first week was supposed to be five days a week and then week two and three would only be one day. This lasted for the first treatment but then my white blood cell count was too low and I was getting tinnitus in my ears. Since I didn’t want to become deaf at the age of 23 we decided to switch one of the drugs. To this day, I still have constant ringing in my ears but at least I can hear.
Another side effect of the chemo was hair loss. My nurse told me that I had between a 10% and 66% chance of losing my hair because of one of the drugs. More like 100%. After my second round of treatment started my hair started falling out on a Wednesday morning. By Friday, I had made an appointment with my mom’s stylist and she shaved all my hair off. While I only wore a wig a total of five times, getting my hair shaved was something I don’t regret.
My chemotherapy finished up right before Thanksgiving, which was a blessing as that’s my favorite holiday. From there it was all about recovery and rest. I spent an entire month in Florida soaking up the sun and getting back to knowing my body. While I wasn’t training for a marathon, I was making strides to walk around the complex we were staying at. I finally returned to work in March and things were starting to get back to normal.
However, in May my family was hit with more bad news. My older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. While that is her story to share, I felt like I had to be there for her just as she was there for me. Oddly enough, our cancers weren’t related at all and we still search for the “why” behind them. In 2018, she ended up running the NYC Marathon in my honor and raised money for ovarian cancer. I felt like I had to do something similar. In October of 2019 I hosted our first annual “We Flight Like Girls” fundraiser at a Pure Barre studio where I work and we were able to raise over $10,000 for the Foundation for Women’s Cancer and Memorial Sloan Kettering. This year we plan to host a virtual walk instead and have raised over $40,000 for our respective organizations.
I do not wish my story on anyone, but personally my battle has helped me grow into the person I am today and without it I would not have realized how much strength a single person or a family unit could possess. Support is never underrated and I attribute my recovery to all my doctors, nurses, family, and friends who were there with my every step of the way.
I write this on the heels of our second annual “We Fight Like Girls” fundraiser and a little over two years out from being diagnosed with cancer. I may no longer fight with cancer on a daily basis but now I fight for the ones who lost the fight, who won the fight, who are still fighting, and those who are unaware of the fight that lies ahead.