I was bloated , but I thought it was a result of eating more greens and fiber go me! The next morning I had an MRI, which detected a centimeter mass in my abdomen picture a large, genetically modified grapefruit that had ruptured and was bleeding freely.
The “Silent Menace” and Early-Twentieth-Century Gynaecology
My type of cancer, granulosa cell tumor of the ovary, is incredibly rare; it accounts for only around 2 percent of ovarian cancers, according to the Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center. I needed to have an emergency laparotomy that would open me up from navel to pelvis. Hours later, I awoke in the recovery room, groggy and out of it, vaguely aware that I had multiple IV lines in various veins on my arms and hands and was covered in layers upon layers of blankets.
I remember thinking about my approaching wedding, and it felt like the life I had been planning and yearning for was combusting into ashes. Instead, I stood before a new, uncertain path littered with pain, fear, and the lingering smell of antiseptic. My recovery was a months-long slog tempered by visits from friends and round-the-clock reminders on my phone to pop yet another prescription pain medication.
In May of 2017, I knew something was off with my health.
I had to take five weeks off from the new job that I'd started only months before. In the weeks and months surrounding my operation, I had an army of surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists pouring over me. I had benchmarks to meet: a day after surgery, shuffle to the bathroom in hospital slipper socks; a week after, try walking around the the hospital wing; climb a flight of stairs, then two. But eventually, my barrage of appointments, check-ups, and blood draws stopped, and I plunged into my old life like a goldfish into a fishbowl: disoriented and in shock, without any idea of how to carry on.
I stood before a new, uncertain path littered with pain, fear, and a lingering smell of antiseptic. Just like that, my disability leave was over, and I was back at work in early August. The same tasks awaited me, the same commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the same faces greeted me day to day. I was grateful to be allowed back into my old life, even if I was still bloated and exhausted. On October 22, my oncologist gave me a clean bill of health—or No Evidence of Disease NED , the medical phrase commonly used to signify when there are no physical signs of cancer present.
Your Stories | Ovarian Cancer Action
This was a week and a half before my November wedding. The existential dread came flooding in. I realized I was no longer the same person I was Before Cancer. I carried more sadness, anger, anxiety, and fear than I'd ever had before—or even during—my health scare.
I was terrified that the second I became comfortable in my old routines my disease would return, taking away everything that I worked so hard to rebuild. I felt alone with my thoughts and wounds. I was angry at my body, and then my mind, for betraying me. I was angry at friends for being MIA, at the world for being cruelly unfair. For months, I carried on, going through the motions but feeling totally numb. A sprained ankle.
A persistent cold after a vacation, or even allergies. It's not everyone's reaction, but many people do feel this way, says Bonnie McGregor, PhD, a licensed clinical health psychologist and executive director at the Orion Center for Integrative Medicine in Seattle. She tells me something that she shares with her own patients: There is no going back. McGregor suggests using mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy to help reframe your negative perspective and your outlook moving forward, and to ultimately think of your cancer journey as an opportunity to become stronger.
So when I get trapped in a negative spiral, I force myself to take a beat and short-circuit those feelings. I think the worst part was having to tell my son Harry. It was horrible. After another meeting with my doctors I was given the choice of having one ovary removed or opting for a more radical hysterectomy. It was a difficult decision, but I eventually decided on the full hysterectomy.
Afterwards the doctors told me I'd made the right decision. I had stage 1c cancer - meaning the cancer cells weren't contained in my ovary - so I'd have needed the hysterectomy at some point anyway. More women need to know because early diagnosis is the best chance of survival. It can be easy to dismiss the symptoms and put them down to something else but it is not worth the risk.
The symptoms are all a bit vague and lots of them could mean other things. I think that uncertainty puts people off going to the doctor.
I had all of the symptoms but some people may only be experiencing one or two. Without that it could have been another two or three months before I got diagnosed.
It might have been too late then. It can be so aggressive and it can spread so quickly that I think I was so lucky to catch it when I did. Home Information and support What is ovarian cancer? Stories Laura's story.