My mother, Maria Valentina Martins, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in February, 2010. Her life’s journey ended too soon thereafter, on January 21, 2012. As is too often the case, she was not diagnosed with ovarian cancer until Stage III.
For months prior to her diagnosis, my mother did not feel well. She complained of constant stomach distress on a daily basis. Just the year before, she had seen her Gastroenterologist and had many diagnostic tests performed. The results were all negative for any kind of colon or gastric cancers. At that time we were all relieved. Still, she continued to complain of abdominal pain, but none of her healthcare providers suggested having additional testing for cancer. They kept focusing on Gastroenterological causes for her symptoms for many months. My mother’s healthcare providers were, and are, second to none, and my point about the delay in diagnosing her is not a complaint about their healthcare or abilities; rather, the point is that a delayed or missed diagnosis is an all too common problem in ovarian cancer.
In the days and weeks following my mother’s diagnosis, my two siblings and their families were all in shock and disbelief. As a nurse, I knew too well the statistics, and that life expectancy of this disease was poor. I was in constant fear and, often, denial. As my mother’s daughter who wanted the best for her mother, I had to remain calm, positive and supportive at all times.
My siblings and their families came together as they always have in times of need. We took turns accompanying my mother to her appointments with her family doctor, and later, with the oncologist, and finally, counseling, support group and chemotherapy. During this time my mom lived out her life with great courage. Even with this dreadful diagnosis she continued to keep her children and granddaughters as her priority. Even though she was fearful of chemotherapy, she religiously went to her sessions, and suffered extreme exhaustion, but did so for the sake of her family. She kept herself busy and active and remained as positive as she could. Spending time with her family was at the top of her list. Certainly, having knowledge that her journey was quickly coming to an end helped her and those who loved her better appreciate the limited time available to spend together.
After the first couple of infusions, she started feeling better and had very little side affects caused by the chemotherapy. She quickly cultivated relationships with her nurses and other patients receiving treatment. This was typical of her; she always made friends wherever she went. Indeed, one of the chemo nurses actually came to visit my mother just before she died, which was something the nurse seldom did as she tried to avoid developing emotional connections to her patients. However, the charm of Valentina (as my mother preferred to be called) was such that it could not be resisted. My mother grew to look forward to her weekly appointments, always dressed up as if going on an outing and she felt at home in this caring environment.
Toward the end of summer, came the good news of remission. We even celebrated with a family dinner (including a special cake). We were elated but held our breath waiting for results of scans and blood tests. By autumn, the cancer had returned and we were all devastated. Looking back now I know this is when my true grieving began. Until then, I believed that my mother would be able to beat her cancer.
With heavy hearts we began planning holiday celebrations and encouraged mom to have faith and to keep moving forward in her treatment. She agreed to do everything her doctors suggested. It was at this time that each of us kids began sharing our very own special time with my mama. I remember endless nights of “girl” talk and watching sappy movies. She enjoyed outings to the park and frequent meals out. She talked endlessly about our family, her kids, and granddaughters. She told us her life had been full and that she was ready for what the future held.
In the months ahead I noticed a slow progression of emotional detachment on her part. This was probably one of the most difficult things for me to see. My mom had always been a very passionate, emotional and sassy woman. She was the life of the party and was never afraid to say what she thought and felt. I know that this was the only way she could slowly begin her journey and prepare herself for the afterlife.
We all tried to continue our lives as normal as possible. This was a time of great bonding for my siblings and I and for our families. We had a huge network of friends, family and coworkers who gave us both physical and emotional support. We were all on this journey together, as ovarian cancer does not only affect the diagnosed but also, those around her.
My beautiful mom battled the disease for nearly two years. She was a true hero and even on her worse day always wore a smile and was a comfort to her children. I took great comfort in the fact that her end of life process was peaceful and effortless.
I always knew my mom was amazing and special. This assumption was powerfully confirmed months after she passed away... Her home where she lived for 42 years was empty and I had made an appointment to meet Service man there to turn off the filtered water. When he arrived, he started looking around and asked "what's going on, where's Valentina?" When I told him she had passed away he was shocked. He told me he so enjoyed talking with her when he made a service call to her home. How she always asked about him and never let him leave before sitting down for a cup of coffee and a sweet treat. This man who I had only seen in passing a few times told me how fabulous my mom was. He said he would miss her!
I could go on and on with stories like these. Valentina was like no other. She would tell it like it is in her sassy style. She had an infectious laugh and would light up a room when entering it.
For as long as I can remember, my mother was a great supporter of cancer research and awareness. She gave regularly to the American Cancer Society. She also bought every cancer awareness stuffed bear, dog etc. She loved filling her kitchen & dining room table with the daffodils in the springtime. She purchased many benefit tickets and was a comfort to her friends who battled the disease, and there were many. It is ironic that she knew the importance of early detection of cancer, yet was not diagnosed until it was too late.
Ovarian cancer speaks softly, when it speaks at all; but it is more often silent. The symptoms of ovarian cancer mimic so many other conditions that it is often misdiagnosed. As a result, it is seldom detected before Stage III, and usually, at Stage IV. This is why awareness of its symptoms is so important. Early detection is the best hope for a woman with ovarian cancer.
For years now I've been involved in advocacy work and have always had endless friends support my efforts. In May 2016 I, along with two others passionate about making a difference with this disease (Jay C. and Gary M.), decided it was time to start a foundation that would directly help women battling ovarian cancer in our community (Santa Maria, CA) and bring awareness to the cause through education and early detection. Together, we founded, The Teal Journey Ovarian Cancer Foundation.
The mission of The Teal Journey Ovarian Cancer Foundation is to educate through advocacy on the signs & symptoms of early detection. We support women in treatment, Survivors and their families. We provide educational talks in our community, to service organizations and businesses.
This year we will provide the City of Santa Maria, CA with an Ovarian Cancer Seminar open to all city employees. We work closely with our local comprehensive cancer center called Mission Hope Cancer Center. We will have a Teal Journey team at "Day of Hope" which is a community event that Mission Hope puts on. We are having our Spring Fashion Show & Luncheon on April 22, 2017 and have our golf tournament and dinner event scheduled for September 14.
The woman that I am today I owe almost all to Valentina. She taught me how to be strong; to stand up for what I am passionate about; to help and support others; to love deeply and live happily! She was that strong bond in our family and because of her, our #SuperGlueLove continues!
September is “National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month”. Teal is the color for Ovarian Cancer. Help spread the word about this silent killer. Encourage women to learn more about its symptoms and share this knowledge with other women in their lives.
I wear teal everyday in honor of my mom and all the warriors both in heaven and on earth.