At 26, small cell ovarian cancer was the last thing on Tabby Soignier’s mind. She wasn’t familiar with ovarian cancer symptoms, but she knew the bloating, pain and headaches she’d been experiencing meant something was wrong.
A small cell ovarian cancer diagnosis
In the summer of 2011, Tabby was busy working as a sports reporter and getting ready for her brother’s wedding. She was going to be a bridesmaid and wanted to get in shape. But no matter how healthy her diet was or how much she exercised, she just couldn’t seem to lose the weight. On top of that, she was feeling bloated and had been suffering headaches. She decided to visit a walk-in clinic in her Louisiana hometown.
The clinic doctor conducted an ultrasound and said that Tabby’s uterus had grown so much that much it looked like she was 20 weeks pregnant. But Tabby knew she wasn’t pregnant. At the clinic doctor’s suggestion, she scheduled an appointment with her gynecologist.
Tabby’s doctor conducted an ultrasound and found a 15 cm tumor wrapped around her right ovary. The doctor said she needed surgery to remove the tumor and her ovary right away. Not wanting to waste any time, Tabby opted to have it that night.
Two days later, the doctor told Tabby her tumor was malignant. A week later, after a pathologist studied the tumor, she learned she had a rare type of cancer: small cell ovarian carcinoma. Tabby and her family knew right away she needed to seek treatment at MD Anderson.
“If you’re going to go through something like this, you want the best,” she says.
Tabby’s small cell ovarian cancer treatment
Less than a week later, Tabby came to Houston for her first appointment with Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist. All Tabby could think about were all the things she might miss: reporting on the upcoming football season, her brother’s wedding, time with her friends and family, especially her one-year-old nephew, Nolan.
Schmeler helped her come up with a plan, but told her to first go home and enjoy her brother’s wedding. Then, Tabby would start six rounds of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy wasn’t easy. Tabby endured nausea and lost her hair. She traveled to Houston every 21 days and had to be hospitalized so she could be monitored around the clock, due to the extremity of the chemotherapy she was receiving. Outside her hospital room, she could hear so many other people ringing the bell — a sign that they had completed treatment — and wondered if she would ever do the same.
Then, just before Thanksgiving, Tabby got her chance.
“Ringing the bell was an incredible feeling,” she says. “I was grinning so hard my cheeks hurt.”
Thanksgiving took on a different meaning that year. Tabby entered the holiday season with gladness, but also anxiety. She had to wait almost a month after her last round of chemo to see if the treatment had worked. She returned to Houston in December for a CT scan and lab work. Twelve days before Christmas, she learned she was cancer-free.
Life after small cell ovarian cancer
Tabby continued to visit MD Anderson every three months for the next two years, and every six months after that. Over the years, she got back to living the life she loved and had missed out on during chemo. She spent time with her friends and family, continued sports reporting and eventually met her now-husband, James, on the football field.
After they got married, Tabby and James wanted to start a family right away. Because she only had one ovary, Tabby was nervous that her cancer treatment may have left her infertile. During her treatment, Schmeler had asked Tabby if she wanted to freeze her eggs, but she’d have to stop chemo to do so. Stopping treatment made Tabby nervous, and having children seemed so far away. With her immediate goal of finishing chemo in sight, she decided not to.
Not long after her wedding, she talked to Schmeler about getting pregnant. Shortly after, she had an appointment with fertility specialist Terri Woodard, M.D. Woodard explained that it would be possible for Tabby to have children, but after her cancer treatment, her lab work showed her egg count was well below the standard range.
It could be hard for Tabby and her husband to conceive on their own, and she urged them to consider in-vitro fertilization.
However, four months after meeting with Woodard, Tabby learned she had conceived naturally. She was pregnant. Nine months later, on July 30 – almost seven years to the day since she met Schmeler and started chemotherapy at MD Anderson – she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, James Jr.
“You couldn’t ask for more than just living,” she says. “But to bring life into this world is just tremendous.”
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