I do not believe that any of us know why we were chosen for this cancer journey.
I was told in early February of 2001, after a bone biopsy, I had endometrial cancer. My gynecologist met with my partner Jo and I to tell us this and what we needed to do to proceed. My Doctor told me that I would have a total hysterectomy and maybe some chemotherapy depending on what stage my cancer was. I had surgery on 2/16/01. What was supposed to be a simple surgery, turned out to be anything but because more cancer was found than my doctor anticipated. Over 60 slides were taken from different areas. Three days after surgery, results of biopsies returned. It was confirmed that I had endometrial and ovarian cancer; both stage 3C. Jo and I were not prepared to hear this.
What is ovarian cancer? How serious is this? Now, what happens?
I returned to work after being out for 8 weeks and worked through my treatments; scheduling them for a Friday so I could recover by Monday. I had 8 treatments of carbo/taxol every three weeks. 3 months into treatment, I broke my left leg which just complicated matters even more. Going through the treatments was not easy but I completed them at the end of August. Three months later I was told that there was no evidence of disease.
Late 2004, after 27 years of being employed in therapeutic recreation, it was determined that I could no longer work. To some of my patients that were in persistent vegetative states, I was their family. For years I was responsible for enriching their lives. I knew each person’s life story like I knew my own. I felt a great deal of guilt about not being able to work anymore. I felt like maybe they would feel like I had just forgotten them. I became very depressed and started counseling.
I had been going to counseling for almost two years when I heard about a gynecological support group that was held once a month about 40 miles from me. I attended my first meeting and became involved in G.R.A.C.E.’S. To this day, I still serve on their board.
At one of the meetings I read the “Conversation” Newsletter, written monthly by an ovarian cancer survivor. There was an article about an ovarian cancer retreat held in Montana called Camp Mak-A-Dream. That article perked my interest and I kept it in the back of my mind. I spoke to other survivors about attending but no one was willing to take the plunge.
In the fall of 2007, I attended the retreat! I took 3 planes to get there but it was well worth the trip. There, I met 60 ovarian cancer survivors from all over the United States and Canada. Some of the women were currently in treatment and some were not. It was amazing to be around all these women because they all just got it. You did not have to explain how you felt physically or emotionally unless you wanted to. We all had been through various stages of this hideous disease.
It does not hurt that the camp is absolutely beautiful. We ate together, shared cabins, enjoyed special programs, crafts, zip lining, rock wall climbing and much more. We started off strangers in the beginning of the retreat and felt like family at the end of the 5 days.
It was here that I met Maria. She was one of the first women I met in the airport when I got to Montana. She was a seasoned veteran since she had attended the year before. Maria was filled to the brim with joy filled energy and ideas. Maria started a group on Facebook called the “Sisterhood of Ovarian Cancer Survivors”. (SOCS) It was Maria’s idea to have this page to communicate with all the women who attended retreat. There you could give updates about yourself, ask questions, organize trips and more. Maria was administrator of this page until January of 2011. It sat dormant for almost a year and then I decided to become the new administrator. I wanted to open the group up to all ovarian survivors to lend online support. Monitoring this page daily has become second nature to me. There is presently over 2100 members from all over the world.
Since attending the retreat in 2007, I have gone 9 straight years and this is one of the best things I have ever done for myself in my life. You share hopes, dreams, laughter and tears with these very special women. I have made some life long friends. If you like more information about the ovarian retreat go to campdream.org and on Facebook the Ovarian Cancer Survivors Foundation has a page where you can get more information. The Foundation in conjunction with the camp assist in sponsoring the retreat.