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5 Lessons Learned from an Ovarian Cancer Survivor

Editor’s Note: Blog written by MyLifeLine.org founder and ovarian cancer survivor, Marcia Donziger. She shares 5 of the lessons learned after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 27. 


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Marcia Donziger

In 1997 I was 27, happy, free, and traveling the world as a flight attendant. Newly married and ready to have a baby, I felt strong and invincible. My future was unfolding just as I expected it to. Until the symptoms appeared ever so subtly. Squeezing cramps around my waist. It hurt to pee. After a few weeks, I marched my invincible self into my doctor’s office, told her I diagnosed my own bladder infection, and may I please have antibiotics.

She decided to investigate a little further. After an ultrasound, she discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor growing on my left ovary. “Could it be cancer?” I asked. “No,” my doctor assured me, “you’re too young to have cancer.”

Surgery was scheduled to remove my “benign tumor.” I was excited to get it over with, so I could go on with my life and have babies. After 5 hours of surgery, I woke up in the recovery room, my body uncontrollably thrashing in pain. My doctor hovered over me and broke the news, “I’m sorry. You have ovarian cancer. You’ve had a complete hysterectomy. We took everything out.”

What I heard loud and clear was “Cancer. You can’t have children.”

The diagnosis came as a shock. Stage IIIC ovarian cancer had taken over my abdomen, resulting in an emergency hysterectomy that I was not prepared for. The intense grief hit immediately. The loss of my fertility was most crushing. I had always wanted to be a mom.

Halfway through chemo treatments, I celebrated my 28th birthday, but there wasn’t much to celebrate. My marriage was dying. Cancer puts tremendous stress on a couple. Some couples can handle it together like champs. We didn’t. We divorced 1 year from the date of my diagnosis.

After treatment ended, I looked in the mirror to see what was left. I was 28 years old, ravaged physically and emotionally, divorced, and scared to date as a woman unable to have children. Who would love me now?

Now, almost 20 years later, I feel strong again (although not invincible).

With the benefit of time and perspective, I’ve distilled that traumatic cancer experience into 5 life lessons:

  1. Trust grandma’s reassurance, “This too shall pass.” As an ovarian cancer survivor herself, my grandma is living proof of this timeless wisdom. Stressful events don’t have to be permanent. We don’t have to be victims. Although cancer is extremely painful and unwelcome, the bright spot is we are forced to build character traits such as resiliency, emotional courage, and grit.
  2. Create your own joy in the midst of crisis. There are ways to uplift yourself during the chaos of cancer treatment. For example, I took a pottery class throughout my chemo months to find solace in distraction and art, which helped soothe my soul and ease the journey. What would make you happy? Do some-thing just for you.
  3. Stop doing what you don’t want to do. If you were doing too much out of obligation beforehand, try to change that. You are only obligated to make yourself happy. No one else can do that for you. The key is to use this wisdom to prioritize your time and honor yourself, so you can be healthy for others. Drop what doesn’t serve you. Drop the guilt. Life will go on.
  4. Connect with others. The emotional trauma is hard to measure in a medical test, but it’s real. Anxiety and depression can go hand-in-hand after cancer—it did for me. In response to the emotional challenges I experienced, years later I founded MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation to ease the burden for others facing cancer. MyLifeLine.org is a cancer-specific social platform designed to connect you with your own family and friends to ease the stress, anxiety, and isolation. Gather your tribe on MyLifeLine. You are not alone.
  5. You are lovable after cancer. No matter what body parts you are missing, you deserve love just as you are. Cancer tore down my self-esteem, and it took significant effort to build it back up. I am dedicated to personal and professional growth now. Look into your heart, your mind, your spirit. Try fine-tuning your best character traits, like generosity or compassion. Never stop growing and learning. We are not defined by the body.

To wrap up my story—I learned that when one door closes, another opens. Today I am the proud, grateful mother of 11-year-old twin boys. Born with the help of a surrogate mom and an egg donor, my dream finally came true of becoming a parent. Where there is a will, there is a way. Never give up on your dreams!


About MyLifeLine.org: MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation provides free websites to connect cancer patients with family and friends so patients feel supported. To learn more about how MyLifeLine.org can help you or someone you know affected by cancer, please visit www.mylifeline.org.

MyLifeLine: Learn About Clinical Trials

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published here on MyLifeLine.org. The mission of MyLifeLine.org is to empower cancer patients and caregivers to build an online support community of family and friends to foster connection, inspiration, and healing through free, personalized websites.

Learn About Clinical Trials

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Why consider a cancer clinical trial?

What clinical trials can offer, from the care you receive to the impact you can make.

Clinical trials offer a chance to receive investigational medicines or procedures that experts think might improve the treatment of cancer. This important option is not limited to people who have run out of choices. In fact, there may be clinical trials for every stage of disease in dozens of cancer types. In this video, patients and doctors share their perspectives on why joining a clinical trial may be an option worth considering.


“To have the opportunity to go on a clinical trial for a patient is extremely exciting.” —Sandra Swain, MD; oncologist


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Concern:
I don’t want to be a guinea pig for an experimental treatment.
The Truth:
Cancer clinical trials are developed with high medical and ethical standards, and participants are treated with care and with respect for their rights.

Concern:
I’m afraid i might receive a sugar pill or no treatment at all.
 The Truth:Cancer clinical trials rarely use placebo alone if an effective treatment is available; doing so is unethical.

Concern:
Cancer clinical trials are only for people with no other treatment options.
 The Truth:Trials can study everything from prevention to early- and late-stage treatment, and they may be an option at any point after your diagnosis.

Concern:
I’m worried that I won’t receive quality care in a cancer clinical trial.
 The Truth:Many procedures are in place to help you receive quality care in a cancer clinical trial.

Concern:
People might access private information about me if I participate.
 The Truth:In nearly all cancer clinical trials, patients are identified by codes so that their privacy is protected throughout and after the study.

Concern:
I’m afraid that my health insurance will not help with the costs of a cancer clinical trial.
 The Truth:
Many costs are covered by insurance companies and the study sponsor, and financial support is often available to help with other expenses; talk to your doctor to understand what costs you could be responsible for.

Concern:
Informed consent only protects researchers and doctors, not patients.
 The Truth:
Informed consent is a full explanation of the trial that includes a statement that the study involves research and is voluntary, and explanations of the possible risks, the possible benefits, how your medical information may be used, and more. Informed consent does not require you to give up your right to protection if the medical team is negligent or does something wrong.

Concern:
I’m afraid that once i join a cancer clinical trial, there’s no way out.
 The Truth:
You have the right to refuse treatment in a cancer clinical trial or to stop treatment at any time without penalty

How to know if a cancer clinical trial is right for you.

There are many factors to keep in mind when considering a cancer clinical trial.

As with any important decision, it’s a good idea to think about the risks and benefits of joining a cancer clinical trial. This video encourages you to ask your medical team about all of your treatment options, including cancer clinical trials. Trial participants, doctors, and patient advocates explain the factors you’ll want to keep in mind as you consider your treatment plan.


“I’ve always advised patients…when the circumstances weren’t urgent, to take time to understand their disease and to evaluate the alternatives.”  —Sandra Horning, MD; oncologist and chief medical officer


What to ask your doctor(s)

Asking The Right Questions Keeps You Involved In Your Care

A cancer diagnosis is often overwhelming, and it’s sometimes hard to gather your thoughts and know the right questions to ask. This video talks you through some of the questions it will be helpful to ask about your cancer, your treatment options, your doctor, and about whether participating in a cancer clinical trial is right for you.


“Talk to your doctor and say, ‘Tell me my full options.’ Raise questions. Be a pain in the neck. That’s what the doctor is there for.” —Arthur Caplan, PhD; medical ethicist


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Rules And Procedures Are In Place So That You Will Receive High-Quality Care

Before a single patient can join a trial, many different experts must approve every detail of the study—from why it’s being done to how often patients should be monitored. Once the trial begins, more unbiased experts provide oversight to check that the rules of the trial are being followed and patients’ rights are protected. This video features doctors and patient rights advocates explaining the high standards by which trials are developed and run.


“I explain…that when they’re on a clinical trial, they’re going to be followed very closely by…specific guidelines.” —Daniel P. McKellar, MD; surgeon and Commission on Cancer chairman


Informed Consent Describes The Study Process, Potential Risks And Benefits, And Your Rights As A Participant

If you are eligible and decide to join a trial, you will be required to review and sign the informed consent forms. This can be an overwhelming process, but it is how you will learn all the details of the trial, including the potential benefits and the possible risks, and give your permission to be treated. This video features patients, doctors, and patient rights advocates who offer tips and insights to help you navigate the process of informed consent.


“When I received the stack of papers…it made me realize this is really serious. But then…it was actually a good feeling to know that this was not something that was being done lightly.” —Rose Gerber; trial participant


Information And Support Are Close At Hand

Because so many people have been affected by cancer, there are many reliable and helpful resources to help you through your cancer journey. In this video, trial participants and doctors help you find the people and resources that may be helpful in educating you about cancer clinical trials.


“The first thing is to hold on tight and be optimistic and to get very engaged and educated about your cancer.” —Jack Whelan; trial participant


Reliable Resources To Help Along The Way

First, talk to your doctor

Your healthcare team is the best source for information about your treatment options, including cancer clinical trials. There are many questions you’ll want to ask your healthcare team when you’re ready to discuss treatment options. Print this helpful Discussion Guide and bring it to your next appointment so that you don’t forget anything important. Record your answers on the form and keep it handy for future reference.


Where to find information about cancer clinical trials

These clinical trial resources will help you find trials that might be right for you.


Support services

These trustworthy sources provide assistance with trial-related costs, which may not always be covered by insurance.

Practical support

Financial support

Additional nationwide support organizations


Don’t go it alone

There are millions of people just like you who are ready to ACT against cancer. These organizations provide advocacy, information, awareness, fundraising opportunities, and a community of like-minded people touched by cancer.

Frederique’s Lung Cancer Story

This post was originally published on MyLifeLine.org. MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation connects MyLifeLine logocancer patients and caregivers to their community of family and friends for social and emotional support. We provide unique communication and stress reducing tools that allow patients and caregivers to share their journey and focus on healing. To learn more, visit MyLifeLine.org and check out the MyLifeLine.org blog.

Frederique was with her son when she started speaking strangely; she wasn’t finishing her sentences and her words weren’t making sense. She didn’t realize it was happening but her son was alarmed and contacted his dad and emergency medical services. The next day, Frederique learned she had tumors in her lung and brain. Her diagnosis was  Stage IV  lung cancer which had metastasized in the brain.

“We fear cancer so much as a society that when you find you have it, you just have to face it,” Frederique recalled upon learning her diagnosis. “The fear was gone.”

Two rounds of chemotherapy, two gamma knife sessions and three rounds of radiation were part of her treatment process over the two years she has been diagnosed , and she is now looking into a clinical trial.

Although she doesn’t know if she will ever be cancer-free, Frederique chooses to look at her cancer journey as an adventure, see the joy in her experiences and live a normal life. She does power yoga, exercises through hikes and walks, and even traveled to France, all while living with cancer.

“There is a disconnect with this diagnosis and how my body is doing. I really do live a normal life,” Frederique explained.

Frederique MLLEarly on, she created what she calls a “healing circle” to help her and her family throughout her cancer experience. She used MyLifeLine.org to share her story and coordinate volunteers.

“I think the technology is amazing. It helps me not only to receive support but also to give hope around me. Staying vibrant and positive throughout such a challenge seems to be inspiring for people. I am delighted that my experience can be of service that way,” she said.

Frederique’s advice for others facing a cancer diagnosis is to find a way to relieve the fear. “Cancer is such a fearful event, especially stage IV,” Frederique explained. “Find a way to ­not be scared of the disease. In my opinion, fear is detrimental to the healing process.” She keeps the fear at bay by meditating and connecting with the energy around her (yoga, chi gong, reiki), but she explained that anybody can find their own way of relieving the fear.

“I could live this journey in total fear and be in a dark mood all of the time, but then I would lose precious time. Yes, I have days where I am scared or sad but most of the time I prefer to live in joy,” Frederique said.

Thanks to the cancer, Frederique rediscovered herself, deepened her connections to others and shifted to a new understanding of the world. “I’ve never been happier, to be honest. I’m where I’m supposed to be now,” she reflected.