Three ovarian cancer survivors recently met to share their cancer journeys and to provide words of advice to those who are newly diagnosed. Here's who they are and what they have to say about living with cancer.
Ginny is a pre-natal genetic counselor and has worked at Johns Hopkins for 37 years. She was diagnosed ten years ago with stage IIIC ovarian cancer at age 50. Ginny has had four recurrences and was treated with surgery and chemotherapy each time. She has been cancer free for four years.
Wendy is 72, a retired consultant in the field of organizational development who has worked at the senior management level. She was diagnosed at age 67 with stage IIIC ovarian cancer, but a rare type involving two different cell types. She has had one recent recurrence that was treated surgically and with chemotherapy. She is currently cancer-free.
Marcia just retired, at age 65, as a lobbyist representing non-profit public health organizations in Washington, D.C. She was diagnosed at age 60 with stage IIIC ovarian cancer. She has been cancer free for over four years. Her husband became ill the week before her last chemotherapy, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died six months later.
How We Cope...
We have at least one person who supports us
Ginny - "My husband's support and reconnecting to friends who have been able to support has been very important. My church community and the prayers of many people have been very helpful."
Wendy - "The support of my intimate partner of fifty years has been a critical factor in my emotional well-being."
Marcia - "The nature and importance of my husband's support through my treatment was like giving me breath. When I lost him, I floundered. But I reached out to close friends and tried to take every opportunity to engage with others even when I didn't feel like it. I sensed it was matter of emotional life or death."
We find ways to distract ourselves from the fact that we have, or had, cancer.
Ginny - "Continuing to work has helped me. It was and is a good distraction from thinking about cancer."
Wendy -"I use the power of the mind. I have my own brand of spirituality, I live in the moment. I practice meditation and yoga as techniques to help me do this. I also do things like read to young children. Children are very engaging and distracting. I make cancer the side dish, not the main dish."
Marcia - "I also continued to work through my treatment. I remember drafting a piece of legislation for a client while an infection in my medi-port was brewing and the pain level was rising. I was able to largely ignore it. I also am distracted by the beauty of the natural world."
We try to "live in the moment"
Ginny - "I feel lucky to still be here. I try to value the relationships I have with family and friends and don't let things go by without experiencing them."
Wendy - "If the sky is pretty, I soak it up. Awareness that death is real -- I have stared into that black hole -- helps me live in the moment, experience now."
Marcia - "I am more relaxed and appreciate what I have and how I feel today, right now. I sometimes become giddy through a combination of indulging in life while feeling deep relief and gratitude."
Our advice for the newly diagnosed...
Ginny says, "Don't focus too much on statistics. They represent the average and you are a unique individual, not an average."
Wendy advises you to, "Ask questions of your medical team and get opinions from different sources believing in yourself as you do this. Once you are satisfied, trust the medical team to do their work."
Marcia urges you to, "Exercise as much as you can through your treatment. Exercise can lift mood and help your body stay strong to do the hard work of fighting cancer. Try to eat well - lots of fruits and vegetables. There are powerful antioxidants, cancer-fighting qualities, in many foods." She also suggests you keep a journal and write about what is happening to you, how you are feeling.
Ginny, Wendy and Marcia have one last piece of advice - connect to a cancer support group, either in person, or online. No one else knows like they do what you are going through.