It’s the sentence we hope to never hear. There is such a sense of fear and dread associated with the word. We’ve all heard the stories and lost friends and family to this terrible disease. So, in June of 2009, sitting across from my gynecologist, the doctor who had delivered my younger daughter 26 years earlier, I heard “you have cancer”.
My first symptom was indigestion. Ovarian type cancers can be very difficult to recognize unless you know the symptoms. I didn’t know. Like a lot of women I thought a normal result on a Pap smear test meant everything was okay…gynecologically speaking. Initially I was diagnosed with two primary cancers --- Stage 3C Peritoneal (same type cancer cell as ovarian cancer and treatment is virtually the same) and Stage 1 Endometrial. Although I didn’t know it in the beginning, my survival rate was 17%. Now, I want to fast-forward to January 2015 because it was a very special year for me. I had survived cancer three times and was about to mark two years cancer free. In the beginning of a cancer diagnosis, you are “a cancer patient” and you can feel as if your life is spinning out of control. Your calendar fills up with scans, lab work, doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy, surgery and other procedures. This new year promised so much for me. I was not only becoming a grandmother for the first time but I was also going to be taking care of my grandchild when my daughter returned to work.
The timing of cancer can be challenging in the best of times. This new year also saw the return of my cancer. As a cancer survivor you are the first to know. I wanted more time to digest what I already knew intuitively. I also needed to think about how I could take care of myself, much less a newborn. It was time I didn’t have. The day I called my gynecologic oncologist to schedule an appointment I also got a tearful call from my pregnant daughter. At her OBGYN visit she had been told that the baby had dropped to the 10th percentile and it was imperative that they induce labor. Her husband was out of town and she needed me to take her to the hospital. My husband was out of town and didn’t know about my plans to see my doctor or why. My family would soon need to know that I was facing major surgery and chemotherapy again, but this wasn’t the time. Thankfully, the baby arrived by C-section and both mother and baby were fine and the father and grandfather were there for the happy event. Only I knew things were about to take a drastic change.
Although we had no Plan B, God did. After my granddaughter went home from the hospital we had a family meeting. I had my surgery a couple of weeks later and my daughter postponed her return to work a few weeks while I recovered. During the weeks I had chemotherapy, a dear friend would keep my granddaughter. Watching over my grandchild that first year helped me heal in so many ways. I wasn’t just the “cancer patient” who often needed help for myself. In spite of cancer’s poor timing, it was one of the best years of my life. A cancer diagnosis doesn’t define you…life goes on and it can be amazing.
Jeannie W. Burkett
(Currently undergoing chemotherapy for 5th cancer diagnosis)