What? I Have Cancer Again?
A three-time ovarian cancer survivor shares her story of overcoming fear and persevering in hope.
I am a three-time ovarian cancer survivor, yet cancer does not define me.
It’s part of my story but not the whole story. In fact, I didn’t know much about cancer until after I turned 40.
I had been living overseas as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Saudi Arabia but decided to move back to my native state of Texas.
I love to travel and have always been a little bit of a gypsy—before teaching ESL, I served in three branches of the military—but after a few years in the Middle East, I felt it was time to return home.
Not long after I started experiencing some strange symptoms in the fall of 2011.
The journey begins
My appetite decreased, my stomach became bloated and I experienced lower back pain and digestive issues.
My ancestry is primarily Apache Indian and Spanish and there has been a history of cancer on both sides, though not ovarian cancer.
Getting it was the furthest thing from my mind. But I was on a collision course with what some call “The Silent Killer” of women.
My body started talking, yet I shrugged off the symptoms.
I was scared to find out what might be wrong; I have always been the type of person who would rather not know.
But I soon hit a breaking point after going to a movie with my brother. I love laughing, and we watched the Adam Sandler comedy, Jack and Jill. I felt so much pain in my chest that I couldn’t even laugh. I knew right then I needed to stop procrastinating and deal with what was wrong.
An alarming discovery
Because I am a veteran, I checked into the Veteran’s Hospital. They quickly admitted me because of my sky-high blood pressure and bloated stomach, which my mom said looked like I was pregnant.
They asked me a lot of questions and eventually took an ultrasound, but a large black area near my abdomen blocked the view, so they opted for a CT scan.
I grew concerned because the doctor avoided eye contact with me. I asked the nurse for news, and she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “You’re so young.”
Soon, the doctor confirmed my fears: I had stage 3c ovarian cancer.
The doctor explained that I had huge cysts on both ovaries.
The next step
My doctor soon performed surgery to remove my ovaries and 17 lymph nodes. Because it was an aggressive type of cancer, they recommended I start chemo shortly after.
Fear washed over me again, like the dread from my initial symptoms.
I resolved to not get chemo.
My faith is important to me, and I prayed about whether to do the treatment. Not long after, fluid started rapidly building up in my abdomen again.
This was the clear sign I needed, so I opted for chemo.
Little did I know how it would push my limits.
How I find hope, strength and peace
Throughout my life, my relationship with God has helped give me hope.
Right before hearing my diagnosis, I went to the bathroom and got on my knees and prayed, “God, please give me strength.”
And he did, by helping me stay composed with the doctor. And as the next hours and days unfolded, he gave me hope when it seemed like there wasn’t any to find.
Hope is so powerful. To know that I can trust God, even in the worst situations, gives me so much comfort.
No matter what happens, I believe that there is purpose for my life, and that God will continue to hold my hand through it all.
This hope helped me through the dark days of chemotherapy and wherever my journey was headed.
My doctor gave me an aggressive targeted chemo, using a port installed in my abdomen. After three intense rounds spread out over a few months, I lost nearly 30 pounds and some days I couldn’t even get out of bed.
I soon reached my limit and opted to stop treatment halfway through. Yet after five months since I started treatment, my scans showed clear and my blood tumor markers looked good.
I faced an uncertain future, but I just felt in my bones that God had more life for me to live.
Just two months after treatment, I moved back to Saudi Arabia to begin teaching ESL again, even though some of my family and friends thought I shouldn’t.
One moment that sums up the euphoria of my survivorship was when I went for a hot air balloon ride in the beautiful Turkish city of Cappadocia on a break from teaching. During my treatment, I had watched a video of this place and vowed to go there if I survived.
And here I was. Rising a few thousand feet above the city in a colorful balloon, with sandstone rock formations stretched below, I just breathed in and out. I felt this overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude wash over me.
I was alive. I had survived late-stage ovarian cancer.
I continued teaching, and during my next break I visited other life-list locales, like Iceland, and seven other countries, too.
I also sought be an ovarian cancer advocate in Saudi Arabia, a place that often stigmatizes cancer.
For seven more years, I lived a cancer-free life.
Yet, when I came back to U.S. and checked back in at the VA, my blood tumor marker elevated above the normal range. So my doctor ordered a scan, which revealed an unpleasant truth: the cancer had come back.
It was small and isolated to the original location, but the news took me off guard.
I really thought I was done with cancer.
They gave me six more rounds of chemo, this time not targeted chemo, but still I continued to rely on God’s help and strength to make it through.
Growth from challenge
Then, the cancer recurred a year and three months later. This time leading up to it, I pushed for an early scan, even though my doctor said I could wait.
I have been learning to not let fear paralyze me and listen to my body, rather than avoiding the unpleasant. I have come a long way with fear since the start of my journey.
What’s amazing is that even after my initial diagnosis, I’m approaching my 10-year cancerversary.
My past decade has included its share of bumps and trials, including losing my mom to Covid-19 in 2020, but I’m not going to let any of it derail me.
Even if some day I pass away from cancer, I have peace knowing that there is life after death, and I look forward to heaven.
No matter what my future holds, I’m going to do my best to keep my faith and live by my name.
Advice for others
My advice for others on this journey is to pay attention to your body. If you feel something is off, you need to listen, and get it checked out.
If you do face cancer, even the Silent Killer of Women, know that everybody goes through it in their own way. I want people to understand that you are going to have times of weakness. And that’s okay—it’s okay to be sad and to wonder what is going on.
And I would say, that’s when you should turn to God. He will surprise you with how much strength he will give you—like he did for me.
I have never been let down, even 10 years later.
He can help you, too.
To find help with your journey, read Asking God for Help.
For more help with fear read: