An older woman in her garden smelling flowers, bird watching, and leaning on a cane

A Portrait of a Women With Advanced Ovarian Cancer

This morning, I remembered an experience from long ago. My children were just 2 and 3. Although so very young, they attended Montessori preschool. Like many mothers, I dropped them off at 6:30 am, so I could dash off to my work at the local hospital.

I was granted my dream position, where I attended to patients, family, and caregivers. Essentially, I addressed the emotional response to physical illness. But, in truth, with 7 ICUs and a cancer institute, most of my patients were critically ill and dying.

The ability to be resilient

It was my children that rounded out my being. With great confidence, I can say I never took them for granted. I felt so blessed to have them in our lives. By working, I was able to provide the very best early education to enrich their growing little minds. They often came home with stories about things they learned. And my husband and I learned from them.

In particular, I continue to recall the limericks they provided. Little did I know then that folk tales throughout history often are rooted in people coming to terms with upheaval and extreme events. I know today that all along life, we pick up experiences that add to our ability to be resilient. The stories seem like a perfect way to examine the situations at hand as a cancer patient.

A knock upon my door

One in particular starts like this:
"There was a knock, a knock, a knock upon my door. I was reading my newspaper, and my mother was getting ready for bed. And at the door was a tall, short, fat, skinny man."

I have since learned that a knock on the door can represent opportunity or disaster. In fact, during wartime, a knock on the door amounted to families being disrupted and homes destroyed. The non-descript tall, short, fat, skinny man denotes a generic description for anyone and anything bringing news.

Many of us with cancer experienced such a knock that changed our lives forever. Regardless, we come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, all skin tones, and ethnic backgrounds. Cancer knows no limits or boundaries. Consuming a person or family cancer can come at any time and age, no matter one's level of success or financial status.

For sure, when cancer knocks, it creates a change

Women who were vibrant and engaged in various activities often succumb to long-standing or permanent changes in their bodies and spirit. Before this experience, the most attention I gave to my body was maintaining a decent weight and exercising for flexibility and muscle strength.

Surgeries and chemotherapy created a new normal. After the first round of chemotherapy, I lost all strength in my quad muscles, making it difficult to rise from a sitting position. While fortunate to avoid painful episodes in my abdomen, neuropathy in my feet affects mobility and freedom. Neuropathy in my hands slows my typing and writing to the point of frustration and tears.

After chemo, there are emotional factors related to loss and anticipation of loss. With each PET scan, we collectively wonder if the other shoe will drop. Will I then be presented with a new decision to return to a complete chemotherapy regimen?

I wake each morning trying to recognize the person I have become. The woman who ran through airports successfully catching connecting flights now has to carefully plan for wheelchairs to assist her from terminal to terminal. There are limitations most don't even consider unless faced with these realities.

The good news

So here's the good news. I can always give up and surrender.

To me, this means stopping treatment and eliminating attempts to explore all activities from my former self. It means denying the joy of family vacations or trying out new restaurants. It means depriving me of future opportunities and preventing my husband and family from taking the chance to complete the dreams of time together.

My choice can be leaving a legacy of sadness or remembering me as a hero.

For now, there still is a choice, and I am not willing to let go

So, I wake up each morning and check in with myself. Rails by my bed remind me I am willing to accept this help and move on to another day of living. A walker or cane provides stability and security. A smile on my face and joy in my heart emerges as I see and hear from the people that make it all matter.

I leave you today, my sisters, in love and peace. Remember, even the worst situation allows you to make a choice. I hope you choose to love yourself. If necessary, forgive others around you. The extra effort will be worth it, as you are always worth it.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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