Meet Teresa: From oncology nurse to ovarian cancer fighter, our first ever featured member speaks on working through treatment and the importance of early diagnosis.
1. How did you find out you had cancer?
Around Feb. 2011, I noticed I was having nagging pain in my right side and that I was having problems with nausea. For some reason, I immediately thought I had ovarian cancer (I'm an oncology nurse). I did nothing for several months, although I did mention to my co-workers that I suspected I had cancer. By spring, I noticed I was rapidly gaining weight and that my legs and abdomen were swollen. I went to my family doctor in May of 2011, and she worked me up for a urinary infection and diverticulitis, both of which were negative. Finally, one Saturday in May, I felt so sick that I drove myself to the emergency department of the hospital where I work, and I was diagnosed there after a CT scan.
2. What was your first reaction to the diagnosis?
I was not surprised. I think I suppressed a lot of my emotions. I didn't really even cry that much until many months later. One day my father was driving me to the lymphedema clinic, and I started sobbing; I've never cried like that before in my life. I just didn't let myself think about all I had been through.
3. How did you choose your course of treatment and care providers?
I was asked to pick a surgeon and an oncologist when I was in the emergency department. The surgeon I initially picked strongly suggested I be treated by a gynecology oncologist who was affiliated with my hospital. I remember thinking that I didn't want to be treated where I work. I'm a private person, plus I wanted to be able to be a patient. I'm sure my co-workers would have done a good job caring for me; I guess I just wanted my workplace to be my workplace, and my place where I got treated separate from that.
4. What helped you the most throughout your cancer treatment?
I have an oncologist who treats me well and is always available when I need her. My parents have been immensely helpful, as I have had some pretty big bumps in the road, treatment-wise. I also had a few friends who seemed to vanish when I was diagnosed, but I have had a few, one in particular, who have steadfastly stood by me. For that, I am very grateful.
5. In what ways was your experience with a cancer diagnosis unique to your given circumstances?
It was difficult at times when I was working and still getting treatment, because long-term patients I was close to would worry about me if I missed work. It was hard for my co-workers to see me trying to work while going through treatment.
6. What advice would you give to someone facing a similar situation?
I think the fact that I was a text-book case of ovarian cancer is important, because even though I had the symptoms and even suspected I was ill, I didn't get checked until months later. I want every woman to know if she has these symptoms, she needs to get checked right away. The earlier it's detected, the greater the chance there is for a good outcome.
For someone with ovarian cancer, my biggest recommendation is to avoid reading too much about survival statistics. You can drive yourself crazy worrying about the future. Try to take each day as it comes. I'm thankful for every good day I have.