Before she was diagnosed with a rare, slow growing ovarian cancer, Nancy was a successful insurance company underwriter for over 20 years. Her days were full and she was looking forward to retiring.
In 2004 I had pain in my back and scans of the pelvic area showed I had a cyst on my ovary. I had surgery to remove it and was told everything was fine, but my doctor also wanted hercolleagues to take a look at the report. About five weeks later, during an appointment, the doctor asked me why they didn’t take my fallopian tube out. She said she couldn’t assign it a stage or do anything until it was removed. But I wanted to get back to work, so didn’t have a second surgery.
The original gynecologist scheduled me for a CA 125 test. So far, at that point, no one had said “cancer” or explained what was going on. A year later, I visited my gynecologist while in pain, and she said maybe what I was feeling was premenopausal, so I take another CA 125 test. Then my period stopped, which he said was stress related, so I started going every three months for a checkup. That continued for a year until I ended up in the ER in so much pain. I was awakened in the ER by a doctor who asked, did you know you have ovarian cancer. I was surprised when I was diagnosed and wasn’t sure what to do. All I thought about was. Just tell me what I need to do to help me get through this.
Then It Hit Me
I had a screening for ovarian cancer, and they found a cyst on my aorta. I was in the hospital for a week while they tried to figure out what to do, but there weren’t any doctors who knew how to help. Eventually I was referred to a doctor at Mount Sinai in the city, but because of the cyst on my aorta they couldn’t do surgery until another doctor was available. I ended up spending my anniversary in the hospital, which wasn’t any fun.
After three weeks, they did the operation. It was 2006 when I finally understood that I had cancer. I was watching TV and all of a sudden it hit me, “my God I have cancer”. I went online to research chemo, which I started a week later. It was 20 treatments total, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week.
Every year after that was another issue. The cancer came back the second year, then I had an aneurysm, then a hernia, then trouble with my back again. Turns out, there was a tumor on my back,which I was repeatedly told was fatty tissue. But I went back to the doctor and he biopsied and removed it. In 2013 it was back again, this time in the pelvic area. Sloan Kettering took over and I had another surgery. Then in 2014 it was back again but I didn’t do surgery. I was put on Femora, which suppresses estrogen and controlled the growth for a year and a half. But it had all sorts of side effects. They wanted me to go for pain management and the oncologist suggested that I try acupuncture for my knees.
Strength From Love
In the beginning I was seeing a psychiatrist. It helped me to be able to talk to someone. I would talk about my son and volunteering, which gave me something to look forward to. My family can’t believe how I’ve gone through this and stayed the same. They’ve put me on a pedestal because I can handle it so well. Even when my mom got sick in 2015 with multiple myeloma, I was her caregiver.
My husband has been my strength; my strength comes from love. He made things out to be no big deal. When he had to go to work, he’d have someone stay with me. My family would also come and stay to take care of me. After the first time, I went back to work. Then I went on long-term disability and then Social Security disability. I went to a lawyer recommended by a friend to help me get the disability, but later he was convicted of fraud and I lost my disability. I reapplied and had a lawyer helping me and I still don’t have it. My husband said just leave your job, the stress is too great, I got you covered.
Sometimes I thought I can’t sit and do nothing, so I would babysit for a neighbor. Then we moved. I miss my old home; it was a community that felt like family. If I have a bad day, I call someone, like an aunt, to get me out of the house. I used to never want to be alone, but now I’d rather be alone. I don’t want to have to talk about what’s going on. When my husband asks, I say I’m fine.
Loss of Identity
I think about it a lot; sometimes it’s fine, but it bothers me physically. Why didn’t they take out the tumor they found in 2014? What if they didn’t realize it’s there? It seemed like something they didn’t realize was there for sure. I was sent to a pain doctor, who did a nerve conduction study and took X-rays of my back, which showed the tumor. I couldn’t believe it was the same as the one they saw in the pelvic area. The pain was so great. I didn’t think they knew what was going on. It’s hard to understand how it’s such a small thing and could cause so much pain. I take Cymbalta for the pain, but don’t want to be groggy all the time.
The hardest part is not being the successful person I was trying to be. I married my high school sweetheart at age 18 and had a son at 21, but then we divorced by the time I was 35. I got a job right out of high school in the insurance industry and worked my way up to director level, but I didn’t have the proper grammar skills and knew I had to go to college to improve myself. So, in the middle of my divorce, with a 10-year-old kid, I went to college part-time and worked full-time.
I don’t like not having my own money, not being a professional. I’m the financial-minded person in the house these days, but it’s not my own money. My husband is an EVP, a broker in the industry for 40 years. I go with him to conferences and reconnect with friends but I’m not a player anymore. Now I’m just a spouse.
Trying to Feel Normal
I’m doing little jobs that help me feel like myself again. I volunteer at a Catholic school in Orange County and teach first and third grade for a few hours a week. But with no job, energy, or sex life, I don’t feel like myself. Without estrogen, sex is too painful. So, I tease my husband, “do you have someone on the side?”
I try doing other things to feel better, but I have a lot of problems filling my days. Before we moved, I used to go to the gym, but now I don’t have a friend to join me. For a while, I had a job babysitting a two-year-old and three-year-old. I prepared their breakfast and lunch and sent them off to school. Then in the afternoons I prepared the meals and would bathe them. I was with that family for nine months and I miss them.
I wish I had been told about the type of cancer that I have and how it operates, what I had to look forward to. It would’ve helped me manage my career. Not knowing, I kept trying to get back to where I was. I had the biggest accounts and so much responsibility. It would have been different if I had understood; I would’ve taken a less-demanding job and stayed in it.