Ovarian cancer survivor: 4 lessons I learned from treatment

One of the best pieces of advice I got before starting chemotherapy to treat stage III ovarian cancer was from my oncologist, Dr. Aaron Shafer. He said it was important to continue working and spending time with my friends and family, to keep my life as normal as possible. Otherwise, I could fall into a negative mindset, which would only make my treatment feel harder.

I believe staying positive is just as important as the drugs that are administered. So, I followed his advice. And except for the days on which I had chemotherapy infusions, I worked the entire time, either from home or in the office.

I also didn’t really discuss my treatment at work. It’s not that I was trying to hide it; I was very open if someone asked me about it. I just didn’t want the fact that I had cancer to be the first thing people focused on when they saw or talked to me. I also didn’t want to be treated any differently.

That’s why I made it a point to wear a wig any time I left the house. I was losing my hair due to chemotherapy, and the wig gave me confidence I’d be seen as “normal,” since everything else I was going through was anything but.

Here are some other lessons I learned during treatment.

Letting people help you helps them, too

I’m the kind of person who never wants to inconvenience anyone, so I typically do things myself. But I knew I wasn’t going to be at 100% during treatment, and I couldn’t risk running myself into the ground. I also knew I couldn’t put the burden of picking up all the slack on my husband and parents. That wouldn’t be healthy for them. So, I had to be OK with letting others help me.

I was taken aback by how many people stepped up. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law both had a local meal delivery service bring prepared dinners by twice a week. Friends and extended family members dropped off food or coffee just because they were in the neighborhood. And when I couldn’t leave the house, another friend sometimes stopped by with a quick art project that we could do together during lunch.

Having others share in this experience helped me to heal mentally and emotionally, something I didn’t realize I needed to do. That, in turn, helped me stay positive and heal physically. Allowing others to assist me helped them cope with the situation, too, since my diagnosis had been so sudden and shocking.

Cancer treatment side effects are real

I had terrible chemobrain and exhaustion during my ovarian cancer treatment. It was incredibly frustrating, especially when I was working, because it felt like everything I did took twice as long.

I’d always understood chemobrain as not being able to remember things. But for me, it was like when you wake up from a dream, but you don’t remember exactly what the dream was about, and the harder you try to recall the details, the further from your grasp they get.

It was excruciating to lose my train of thought in mid-sentence, not be able to recall entire meetings, or not remember a word, but feel like it was on the tip of my tongue.

I also lost most of my hair and had terrible acid reflux. I was constantly exhausted, too, both mentally and physically. I missed out on a lot of social gatherings I would’ve normally gone to. I just didn’t have the energy to go. It was hard enough to make it through a regular day.

Don’t let fear prevent action

I’ve always been a positive person, but since finishing my treatment, I’ve really tried to take everything in stride. Life can change in an instant, so I’ve learned to say “yes” to more things and step out of my comfort zone more often.

I gain a little more confidence each time a follow-up appointment confirms that I’m still cancer-free. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop worrying when it’s checkup time. I’ve learned not to take anything for granted. I just keep the same mindset I did during treatment, and never let the fear or worry become debilitating.

During treatment, I found myself constantly saying, “We will get through this.” And when I was scared of what my tests results might show or when my confidence wavered, my husband was always there to remind me that this would eventually be over. It might be hard, but it wasn’t impossible. Remembering that helped me to keep going and do what needed to be done.

Everyone has to find their own motivation. But don’t let cancer define you. It’s a bad thing that has happened to you, but it’s not you. Always remember who you’re fighting for: your friends and your family — but most importantly, yourself.

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