Sunday, August 31, 2008

Don't we have a right to be sick?

It's been a pretty quiet Sunday, I'm in Florida so it doesn't really feel like Labor Day weekend...nothing that suggest it's the end of summer, probably because it's always summer here.

One of the biggest changes in my life after cancer(we'll call it AC), is that I've become "Aware". I'm more in tune with what's going on around me, be it people, places, or things. Today as I was peaking out of my window (I do that often...I guess you could call me a nosey neighbor) there seemed to be an unusual amount of kids playing outside. Again, this might have been normal activity for them...but as I said earlier I've become a lot more aware. Hearing the laughter and fun made me think back to when I was a kid. When my biggest concern was what I would wear to school the next day or if my BFF(Best Friend Forever)would have a nice long juicy note for me to read during band:)

The carefree sound of children playing also brought me back to a conversation I had earlier with a fellow survivor who just completed chemo and radiation for breast cancer. She's fighting the biggest fight of her life while working and raising three kids on her own. I won't go into intimate details about her journey, but I will say was determined by her and her doctor that she needed to take a little time off of work to re-coup after chemo for health reasons. For those of you that don't know, chemo is used to kill all of the bad cancer cells in your body. Unfortunately the chemo doesn't know the difference between a healthy cell and a bad cell, so it ends up killing all of your cells. The wear and tear on your body is intense. You're being flushed with deadly toxin's weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly depending on your diagnosis. For my friend, a doctor's note wasn't good enough for her employer. They require additional testing so that they can determine if she's eligible for short term disability.

Rounds and rounds of chemo, radiation, scans, blood work...aren't good enough for them. They want more. How much more can she deliver? Isn't a diagnosis of BREAST CANCER enough? You work hard all of your life so that you are prepared for and okay when something like cancer happens to you. Why should you have to deal with the stress of trying to figure out how you're going to make ends meet while fighting for your life? It makes me so angry that people all over the country are fighting the same battle while carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. STRESS is the one thing that you should avoid when fighting any illness and for many people including my friend, it's unavoidable. Half of the battle against cancer is a positive spirit and outlook, how do we achieve that when BS gets in our way?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Education = life...

Ovarian Cancer is scary I'll admit that. Whenever I tell someone that I had it, the look on their face tells it all. They are scared to death. It's a household name that's often referred to as the "silent killer". Great, I was diagnosed with a disease that's often referred to as the silent killer. Talk about unlucky...what are the chances of that? They say about 1 and 55. About 22, 000 people are diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer each year, about 15, 000 of those people will die. Ovarian Cancer is an aggressive disease in itself, but what compound's the situation is that it is often diagnosed in the later stages quickly diminishing your chances of survival.

Over time what I've realized is that yes it's scary as all illness' are. We're afraid of the unknown, we're afraid of the treatment's, surgeries, loss of control, employment , friends, family and everything else that comes along being sick. What most don't realize is that taking a pro-active stand with your body and health care can save your life. It will make that big, bad, scary disease...not so bad.

I won't sugar coat things, Cancer is awful!!! Every one's journey is different. Many will undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiation...sometimes all three. In most cases you lose your hair, appetite, weight, and your zest for living. Because your bodies immune system is greatly compromised during treatment, you are susceptible infections and other illness'. It's not an easy battle and for many it's a battle that they will face for the rest of their lives. There's no magic pill that can stop you from getting sick but there are preventative measures that you can take that will help you in your fight.

I now realize that although I knew about Ovarian Cancer, I was never clear about how it was detected and diagnosed. I've been going to the gyn for half of my adult life and I had no idea how things worked. Since my diagnosis, I've met a number of woman who join me in that club. I can't think of how many times someone asked me if my cancer was detected through a pap smear. A pap smear is used to detect Cervical Cancer. I too was always under the impression that if my pap smear came back okay then I was set to rock and roll until my next exam...silly me.

There is no one test to determine if you have Ovarian Cancer. The symptoms are very vague. How vague you say? Try these on for size...bloating, frequent or urgent urination, pelvic pain, abdominal pain, gas, back aches. See what I mean? These are all symptoms that women feel at any given time of the month.

If you are feeling any of these symptoms persist it's important that you are able to articulate that to your Dr. A trans-vaginal ultrasound is then performed to see if there are any abnormalities. That's how the mass on my right ovary was located. There's a blood test called a CA125 that is given in conjunction with the trans-vaginal ultrasound when Ovarian Cancer is suspected. Surgery is often confirmed after these steps are taken, which is where you get your true diagnosis. In my opinion a trans-vaginal ultrasound should be performed during every gyn exam....unfortunately insurance company's(don't get me started on them) won't pay for it unless it's warranted(whatever that means).

I had no control over getting cancer. But I had control over my body and how to respect it. Keeping up with my check-ups saved my life. We don't have to be victims. Arm yourself with knowledge. We have to educate ourselves, no one's going to do it for us. Dr.'s are often in a rush, but who cares. Know your health history when you go to the Dr., ask them exactly what they're testing for, let them know if you might be at risk for any hereditary illness'. My best advice is go to a Dr. you like and trust. Don't be afraid to go to someone else if you don't feel like you're getting what you need. Last thing, don't be afraid to talk to other people. Share your story and share your story often. Don't forget to listen when other's share theirs.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Umm...I'm back

Wow, as I said back in December when I lasted blogged...I've never been good with diaries and journals. I'm one of those people trys really hard to keep it going, only for it to fall by the waist side:) We'll not any more...

Let's see, when we last left off I was probably getting ready for my 3rd or 4th treatment. Since then I've completed all eight of my treatments, had a cat scan that came back clear, and followed up with a hysterectomy. Yep, they took all of my girlie parts in July. I'm feeling pretty awesome, thanks to The Davinci Robot. It's a less invasive way to have a hysterectomy, giving you a shorter recover time and less scaring. Dr.'s guide the robot during surgery enabling them to get everything they need to including extensive tissue samples of surrounding lymph nodes.

I didn't have kids prior to my surgery, but I'm okay with that. I'm blessed and grateful to be alive. Don't get me wrong, I've had my moments. I won't pretend that this something that I haven't struggled with. It's super hard when you see mother's and father's with their children living the American dream. I'll always live with a sense of sadness for myself, but mainly a sense of lost for my husband and what I'm not able to give him.

The great thing about my husband and I is that we are both warm and loving people...seriously, people love us:) We had always planned to adopt at some point. We often joke that my husband has wounded bird syndrome, he will take in anyone in need of a hand up. We love people...whether they're related to us, born to us, or just someone who needs a helping hand. So I know that we will have children someday and I'm excited about what's in store for us.

I've launched a new campaign. As most who are reading this know, Ovarian Cancer(often referred to as the silent killer) is the number 1 gynecologic cancer death amongst woman. They say 1 and 55 woman will be affected by this disease. They say around 22, 000 people each year are diagnosed and out of that 22,000 about 15,000 will die from the disease. And cancer, like many other illness' are shortening the lives of many woman. Throughout my journey, I've learned a lot about the disparities in health care when it comes to minorities and their Caucasian counterparts. As an African-American woman I was surprised to see a void in the number of women being treated who looked like me. Only to find out later that yes minorities were diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, they just weren't living as long. African-American and Hispanic women are not living as long due to lack of health care options, a breakdown in communication and education, and of course a lack of awareness. Because of these startling statistics and because I've been blessed with a second chance at life I've made it my mission to help as many women as can. Even if it means saving one life at a time. We may not be able to avoid illness' such as Cancer, diabetes, and hypertension but we can arm ourselves with enough ammunition to take control of our outcome.

I've recently connected with some wonderful woman who were gracious enough to give me a swift kick into action. Thank you ladies, you know who you are!!!