Ever since I was a little girl I looked up to my big sister Julianne. She was a dancer. Actually, she graduated from High School early so that she could dance and perform on a cruise ship while exploring the world. I always wanted to be just like her. She was beautiful and talented and a joy to be around. Everyone loved her. Then when I was seventeen and she was only 24 years old, she was diagnosed with a very large in-operable brain tumor on the base of her brain.
I don't know if it was because I was young and naive and certainly never had known anyone with cancer before, or if I was just in denial, but the thought of her dying never once crossed my mind. And so, when I woke up one morning and was faced with that reality, I felt like most people do when they are faced with this disease or know someone who is dealing with it. I felt helpless, and hopeless and I felt cheated out of having no choice in the matter.
Three years ago, a very good friend of mine, Amy Rea, invited me to go to Eden Prairie's Relay For Life event and walk the track with her. She was relaying in honor of her neighbor who had just been recently diagnosed with cancer. I decided at the last minute to go and walk for a couple of hours in support, but instead I ended up staying the entire night till the next morning. It was a fun and amazing experience that moved me beyond words. For the first time, I felt like I had a choice. I felt empowered to fight back against cancer. I realized that I didn't have to sit by and watch those we love suffer or die from something that can be prevented. I realized that I could raise awareness and money for research. So, while walking the track that night at Relay for Life, I had it all planned out in my mind how I was going to participate the next year and create my own team and walk in honor and memory of my sister, Julianne.
Little did I know then, but the following year not only did I participate as a relayer and team captain, but also as a cancer survivor.
You see, for nearly an entire year I had not been feeling well at all and wasn't sure why. I started pulling my kids out of activities because I just didn't feel good or have the energy needed for extras. I felt nauseaus and bloated all of the time. I started having extreme abdominal pain and that is when it was discovered through a couple of CT scans that I had a tumor on my left ovary.
I can't imagine what it is like for people who have the knowlege that they have cancer, but for me it was the fear of NOT knowing. Because of insurance issues, I had to put off surgery for two months. Not knowing the seriousness of the tumor and whether it was cancerous, was especially hard on me and my family. My husband and children were very supportive, but we were all very scared. And only a couple of years earlier had we known a family friend who had died from ovarian cancer having to leave behind her own husband and young children. We knew the seriousness of this kind of cancer and like I said, we were afraid.
Finally, I checked into the hospital on May 1st, 2006. Surgery was scheduled to be about 2 hours long. Instead, it ended up taking about four and a half hours. My surgeon easily removed my left ovarian tumor through three small laparoscopic incisions. He said it was smooth and the size of a grapefurit. Yep, not kidding. A freakin' grapefruit. I even asked him to repeat that several times just to confirm that I heard him correctly. Anyway, he sent my ovary and affected filopian tube off to pathology to be tested, while I was still on the operating table. My doctor seemed confident that it would be benign and started to close me up. But very quickly the report came back from pathology that it was cancerous. I then had to be reopened immediately with a large incision to dissect lymph nodes for biopsy. While doing that, I had the unexpected complication of excessively bleeding and lost a lot of blood which required a blood transfusion, also resulting - a damaged vein in my left leg.
As it turned out, I had a very rare form of cancer known as Granulosa stromal cell tumor. Only 1 to 2% of ovarian cancers present in this form. So, if you are going to have ovarian cancer, this is the one to get. It typically is a very slow spreading cancer and it seems that I could have had it for many many years and not know of it of course until experiencing symptoms. Luckily, my cancer was treatable through surgery alone and no chemotherapy was needed. I still have to go to my doctor every three months for the next 3 years for follow visits and blood tests.
I am amazed at how far medical research has come. It's possible that my sister could be alive today with the advancements they've made in this field. It's very possible that I wouldn't be leading a happy and active life now without it.
Since my recovery, I've resumed my career in Ballroom Dance that I had put on hold for 10 years to raise my young family. Teaching full time, I'm reminded daily through twinges in my left leg from my damaged vein at how lucky I am to be a survivor.
I DANCE in MEMORY of my sister, Julianne and to CELEBRATE my survivorship.
I RELAY FOR LIFE to FIGHT BACK against this deadly disease.
My mantra....."Remember.......Celebrate......Fight Back!" and count your many blessings.
How can you help ???
RELAY FOR LIFE takes place on July 18th at the Central Middle School track in Eden Prairie. It is an all night fun activity-filled event starting at 6:00 pm and ending at 6:00 a.m. the next morning. Presently, I am team captain of "The CURE-rageous Knitters" (composed of my very wonderful knitting friends who were all a great support to me during my cancer scare).
I invite you to seriously consider joining me in my efforts. You can do this by signing up to be on my team to raise money and participate in this fun event or simply by just taking a couple of minutes and make a monetary on-line donation.
Now, please visit my personal or team webpage to sign up or make a donation In honor Of, In Support of, or In Memory of someone you know who has been affected by this deadly disease.
Thank you so much for your support.