Trouble In Paradise - My Cancer Journey
I was living in paradise and having the time of my life. I moved to south Florida in 1997, fell in love with the beaches, weather and nightlife. It was quite a departure from living in Northern California. It was exciting times - the world wide web, stock options, meeting new people, Sunday's at the beach and getting dressed up to go out on the town with my friend Tracie. I had no idea life was about to change and there was trouble in paradise.
My symptoms started in February 2002. I had noticed for a few months that I felt extremely bloated, increasingly tired, had painful stomach aches and felt full when I hadn't even eaten a thing. My work schedule was crazy busy and only assumed I needed to take better care of my health. I was still exercising, running my routine eighteen miles per week, so I thought "I can't be that sick". I was completely wrong. There was something very wrong. It was strange how fast my cancer journey started to unfold - the calm before the storm. Life changes when you least expect it!
One night I awoke from a bizarre dream that felt very unsettling. I had dreamt about some of my past life experiences and people I haven't spoken to in decades. The next day, I thought to myself "what the heck does that dream mean?" The mystery meaning behind my dream started to dissipate after arriving to work and shifting my focus on project deadlines. My job at SportsLine.com was very fast pace - countless emails, lots of meetings, complicated technical projects and last minute calls from executives wanting something done now. The job delivered plenty of stress, kept me on my toes, taught me how to get things done quickly and I learned a tremendous amount about technology - all skills I use today as an artist and entrepreneur. As the day went on my symptoms were still painfully apparent. My gut and dream hinted I better do something to fix it. As I sat at my desk nervously tapping my foot I dialed the doctors office. I was both scared and relieved I was going to see a doctor, hoping for immediate answers. Unfortunately, the doctor had no appointments that day, but let's just say I didn't take no for an answer. I saw the doctor three hours later.
My persistence to see a doctor paid off and I make no apologies for being a strong advocate for myself. The doctor immediately found a large tumor on my ovary. My focus immediately shifted from work to my health. I had a long road a head of me, delivering lots of uncertainty. Ongoing body scans, blood tests, doctor appointments, pre-op procedures and surgeries followed the next several months. I tried looking at the positive that my diagnosis, ovarian cancer stage 1 was still in the early stages - I was hopeful. After recovering from my two surgeries I completed six rounds of chemo. What an emotional roller coaster that experience was.
Experiencing hair loss for the first time was both challenging and enlightening. Shaving my long locks was really tough at first, but was unfortunately part of the process. When my hair started falling out from the chemo it was driving me crazy. Seeing clumps of my hair falling out became emotionally draining, so I just shaved it all off. What a relief that was. My new bald style gave me the strength to move onto more positive things. Next, I was thinking about how to style my bald head and figure out how to recreate my lost eyebrows. Living in Florida, a very hot and humid climate wasn't ideal for wearing wigs or painted on eyebrows. The wigs looked good, but they itched like heck and made me profusely sweat. My painted on eyebrows often disappeared by the end of the day from all of my sweating. I found myself wearing hats and scarfs most of the time. There weren't many designs that matched my personal style, but I made the best of it. My sister, gifted me an adorable soft beautifully designed jean hat - I wore most days. Fashion was on my mind even during my cancer journey - I thought about designing a line of stylish hats and scarfs to accommodate people with hair loss. Although I never created an accessories line I had some fun daydreaming about my creative ideas.
I continued working during my chemo treatments - focusing on work rather than my diagnosis helped me with the healing process. Going to work was challenging, however it taught me what being really tired feels like and how to power through tough times. My health management continued the upcoming years - multiple CT-Scans, blood tests and monthly doctor visits along with managing my mental anxiety of a cancer recurrence. I was grateful I had a clean bill of health throughout the years.
In Florida with my friend Tracie - when my hair grew back I got lots of curls.
What Having Cancer Taught Me
Fast forward twenty years and I still think about my cancer journey and the people that touched my life. The experience certainly taught me a lot that I will forever remember. For one, life can take a turn when you least expect it. Having a strong support system of family and friends was critical. My support system helped ease some of my discomfort, rekindled friendships and reminded me how valuable human relationships are.
The experience also taught me not to wait in life. Since I can't get time back, I always add that into the equation of decision making. Another big lesson, continue following my gut - most of the time it is spot on. If something doesn't feel right don't wait, address it. For example, recently I had another health scare that I followed my gut on. This year I noticed a mole that looked suspicious and got in to see a doctor right away. Sure enough, it was a melanoma stage 0. Luckily, I was persistent about getting in right away to see the doctor. Cancer has taught me to make my healthcare a priority - I do my yearly doctor appointments and routine procedures. I work at making no excuses when it comes to managing my health, I just do it. I encourage others to as well.
Cancer has taught me to take risks, try new things and lean more into my fears. I try to say yes to new things instead of no - not always easy. My journey also reminds me to practice compassion - you never know what a person is going through. I continue connecting with people who are going through cancer, have been through it or know someone who is. I often share my cancer story with people and they often share their personal journey. We have a lot more in common with others than we may think, something I realize more as I age. That is it for now....wishing you a happy and healthy life!Finding supportive programs and the right resources can be challenging and overwhelming during the cancer process. Bay Area Cancer Connections - BACC's resource center does a truly amazing job providing different support groups and excellent resources. To learn more visit: bayareacancer.org.
Ovarian cancer signs and symptoms visit the Ovarian Cancer Coalition.
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