Search:
 
 

Posts tagged with: Ovarian Cancer

Don’t Let Fear Block the Parade

It’s time again for my semi-annual oncology check-up visit, and it never fails to make my heart pound and my knees feel weak. I’m a seven-year ovarian cancer survivor and am very lucky to be alive. It was a fluke really, that they caught my tumor, which grew from nothing detectable at my annual GYN visit into a 12 cm monster, spreading to four places in my abdomen and to my other ovary in less than five months’ time. I was only 40 years old, with three young kids, my youngest being only four. Talk about fear, fear for myself because I’m human after all, but more fear for my family, about what I was doing to them as I waded through 15 months of grueling chemo with only a 57% – 70% chance to live 5 years.

So now as I sit here in the waiting room, knowing that this day will either bring great relief or great devastation, I’m reminded of the huge impact of crippling fear on our lives. What are you afraid of?

Not realizing your dream?

Being told you’re not good enough?

Losing your ability to find the words to tell your stories?

Not bringing in enough money?

Bad reviews?

Peeing your pants while giving a presentation at RWA?

Fearing terrible things, most of which we have no control over, can have huge impacts on our wellbeing and our futures. Fear is a bully. It likes to loom over us, swelling into a monster as we give it power through worry and talking ourselves out of taking chances.

Bloody hell! (as my current heroine would say) I could talk about fear for hours, because I’ve splashed around in it for years, letting it soak into me until it was hard to breathe. Now that I’m in remission (can’t say cured with OC for 10 years), I might not see death next to me every day. However, on days like today, when I walk back into that sterile room with the crinkly paper on the table, I’m poked and prodded, and I have my blood drawn, the bully slides in, shaped like the fricking grim reaper to sit in the corner of my appointment room.

What is hard to remember is that the fear I experience doesn’t change the results. I have no control over what number shows up for my CA-125 (I’m shooting for 8 or lower), which shows if there are active ovarian cancer cells growing in my body. I have no control over what the doctor might find during my exam. Just like I don’t have control over if the romance industry tanks or if my editor decides to leave or if my publishing house folds.

The only things I have control over are my reactions, whether they are reactions about something real that has already occurred or something I’m making up in my mind (a worry). So, I employ some of the same tips that I use to fight my cancer recurrence fear in my daily life as an author.

1. Envision myself as successful – I take a moment to close my eyes and picture a scene out of my successful future. With my cancer, I envision myself as a healthy elderly woman with grandkids running around me, sticking their little, soft hands into my cardigan sweater to find pretty sea glass that I’ve found on the beach in front of our house in Maine (yes, I’ve really fleshed this image out over the years since my diagnosis). With my writing, I envision myself happily typing away in my home library filled with the hundred books I’ve written (and a few Rita statuettes – LOL!).

2. Positive Affirmations – I write down positive statements about things I want to achieve, written in the present tense without any negative words in them. Then I read them aloud twice a day. These do not need to be true, in fact most of the time they are not (yet) true. They also don’t have to be something within your control. Here are a few examples.

I am living a long and healthy life.

I create rich, multi-dimensional characters and intricate plots.

I am a New York Times bestseller.

3. Tough Love – When I’m waiting for and worrying about a test result that I haven’t yet received, I try to shake myself up with a little tough love. I tell myself: Heather, in forty years, when you look back on this day, you will be really pissed off that you spent this glorious day mourning something that didn’t happen. What a waste!

4. What’s the worst that could happen? Okay, this isn’t something I employ when I worry about my cancer coming back, because the worst is dying quickly and painfully. But it is definitely something I would use when fearing rejection. So what if someone doesn’t like your heroine. There are usually a few people who do like her (we tend to focus on the negative). Or if you burp in the middle of your presentation, you’re likely to get several laughs, and people will remember you. Many times, we worry that the absolute worst outcomes will come true, when often the negative outcomes are not truthfully that terrible.

5. Call out the bully. Just like living, breathing, glaring bullies, fear often backs down when you look it straight in the eye. You acknowledge that it is there and trying to frighten you. You can tell someone about it: a friend, critique partner, or spouse. You can tell the bully that they have no power over you, and that you are still going to submit your manuscript or do a Facebook live stream or give that RWA presentation.

 

 

Bottom line: Don’t let fear make you hide away from life.

After my doctor’s appointment, I decided to celebrate getting through it with a stop at a market that sells delectable treats. I picked up a mini éclair and mini neapolitan to have with my lunch. I’m still waiting for the blood work results and will post them if they come in during this post. But instead of mentally writing my obituary (which I’ve done more times than I can count), I will try to enjoy the day. If fear stalks me, I will employee my tips above. It takes practice, but as life would have it, we will likely be given many opportunities to learn how to kick fear to the back of the crowd, so it doesn’t block the parade.

Since this is September, Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, here are the warning symptoms of this vicious, sneaky disease that steals our moms, daughters, sisters, aunts, and girlfriends. If you experience any of these symptoms every day (it doesn’t go away and come back) for three weeks or longer, please see a GYN.

I’m an “open book” when it comes to ovarian cancer and women’s health. Feel free to contact me directly at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com if you have questions about my specific experiences with cancer. I also have an Ovarian Cancer Awareness FB page at: https://www.facebook.com/SHOUTagainsttheWhisper/

Have a fabulous day! Enjoy the parade!

Heather

Heather with her Highland Hero at their house in Maine

 

 

 

Ovarian Cancer Awareness & Pushing Past the Worry Monster

September. School’s back in, there’s a hint of cooler weather in the air. Fall decor is popping up in the stores. And…

Wear Teal

And it’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness month! Before you close out of this post because this doesn’t have anything to do with writing, please at least view the symptoms. Because when I turned 40, I really didn’t know what they were or how ignoring them would threaten my life.

We hear a lot about the Pink women’s cancer, and I’m all for breast cancer education as my mother is a 23 year survivor and my husband’s mother died of breast cancer when he was 9yo. So yes, I get my 3D mammogram every year. But with all the information about breast cancer, often women forget that there’s a whole lot more to their physical make-up.more than boobs

Unfortunately there is no test for ovarian cancer, like the PAP smear for cervical cancer. The best way to detect ovarian cancer is for a woman to be aware of her body and know a cluster of symptoms.

The four main symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

Bloating,

Eating less and feeling full quickly,

Abdominal pain, and

Trouble with your bladder (incontinence, spasms, etc.).

Other symptoms include menstrual irregularities, pain during intercourse, indigestion, constipation, fatigue and back pain.

For me, I had minor bloating that didn’t go away for a month before I noticed that my skinny jeans were difficult to button. So I did more sit ups. After all, I’d just hit the big 40 and was probably suffering from lowering metabolism. So I ran everyday with my dog and played soccer on a co-ed team. I wasn’t tired. The next symptom I noticed was a pinchy-type pain in my right lower abdomen. It felt like an ovulation pain, but I had it during my period too. I felt it more when I sat than when I stood, elongating my torso. So being a busy mom of 3 kids (ages 4, 10 and 12), I just made sure to stand more.

The third symptom I noticed was pain during intercourse, but I chalked this up to my tender intestines that liked to act up occasionally. Lastly I had a heavy feeling in my bladder area, making me wonder if I was getting a urinary tract infection.

I had seen my GYN five months earlier for a pelvic exam, so I didn’t necessarily think anything much. I never would have gone to the doctor except that I was hit with a soccer ball during a playoff game and thought I broke my hand.

As my favorite nurse practitioner was checking out what ended up being a sprained wrist, I mentioned that I was bloated and feeling a pinchy pain on one side. This caused her to feel my abdomen. Her face scrunched as she pushed where I said it hurt.

“Heather, I have to do a pelvic exam.”

“For a broken hand?” I teased.

“Something doesn’t feel right.”

Four little words that started a ball rolling. Pelvic exam (“Something’s blocking your right side.”), ultrasound (There’s a large mass.”), blood tests (“Cancer marker counts are slightly above normal.”), trip to the Emergency Room when my bladder couldn’t void (“Almost 2 liters of urine in there.”), CT scan (“The mass looks complex.”), and finally surgery. Ten short days and I woke up in a hospital room, stuck with IVs and a catheter and two pressure cuffs keeping the blood flow moving in my legs. “I’m sorry. It’s ovarian cancer.”

I was Stage IIC which gave me a 57% chance to live 5 years. Not enough time.

McCollumClan - Copy

10-year-old-son: “Promise me you won’t die.”

12-year-old-daughter: “I’m painting my nails teal & I’m going to sell sea glass jewelry to raise money for research.”

4-year-old-daughter: “Who will you play with in Heaven if I’m not there with you?”

Not enough time.

I dug in deep with the help of my husband, family and friends. Five months of kill everything chemo and ten more months of lets-starve-the-cancer-cells chemo on a clinical trial. Fifteen months of Hell.Getting poked

I lost my hair; that was the easy part (who knew you actually need nose hairs to stop your nose from running. All. The. Time!). Ulcers through my digestive track, bleeding from my mouth sores, sporadically functioning taste buds, deep-in-your-bones aching and exhaustion, nausea, heart palpitations, toe nails that fell out, loose teeth, numbness, dizziness, sore throat for five months. Yep – Hell.

But I hit my 5 year cancer-versary this past April. So there, stupid cancer, I’m still here! And I’m in remission! Woot!

0 to 1

It’s my story, and I thank the Lord it has a happy ending (so far). OC has a nasty habit of lying dormant and then coming back like a sneaky stalker, so I have to be hyper-vigilant for at least another five years.

But I’m here, right now, hugging my kids, stressing about mundane things like car pool, closely scheduled play dates and my oldest searching for colleges. In the back of my mind I worry – about bloating that I’m starting to notice again (could be the antibiotic I’m on for a sinus infection) and the indigestion/nausea I get all the time and the lower back pain that hits me every once in a while and the fatigue that knocks me out some afternoons (umm, yeah…I’m a crazy-busy mom). Being the smart, vigilant woman that I am, I’m tracking the symptoms and will call my oncologist in another week if they don’t go away. Meanwhile, I have to remind myself not to “jump” at every little ache and pain.

We talk a lot about dealing with fear when we are in treatment, but there is a whole other terror that stalks survivors. It can be loud, blocking out the rest of our thoughts. Or it can be a niggling undercurrent that keeps our gut tied up with anxiety, even if we don’t consciously realize what we are worried about. Both types can ruin life.

As a survivor, grateful for this second chance to experience the wonders of waking up and moving through my day with my family, I refuse to let this terror wash over the beauty of life with a dull gray. When I realize it is stalking me (very often when I’m having weird symptoms), I must recognize it for what it is and then shove it behind me. It never goes away. Never. But I can’t let it stand in front of me, blocking the colorful parade. If fear is a part of my life, it is my quest to make it as small as possible.

Even if you’ve never had cancer, I bet you have something that likes to stand in front of you, blocking the parade. It’s not easy living with a monster that steals your thoughts and joy, but recognizing it for what it is, a monster, is the first step in looking past it and living. Really living. Not just surviving.

Heather’s Top Seven Techniques for Pushing the Monster to the Back of the Room

1. Acknowledge the worry – either in a journal or to a person. It’s easier to stop replaying the same worry over and over if you get it out of you onto paper or in words.

IMG_5453

Heather’s Gratitude Journal for August

2. Keep a gratitude journal – helps me focus on the beauty around me.

3. Meditate – through gentle movement like yoga, Zen meditation, or even a mind-clearing walk.Yoga-Studio-app

4. Give a time limit – for me it is always two weeks of tracking symptoms, and then I call the doctor. But on a daily basis, if I’m worrying, I let myself worry for five minutes, and then purposely move my thoughts to something else.

5. Move – walking and practicing yoga gets my blood flowing. Doing healthy things for my body helps me on so many levels. It ups endorphins, gives me control over my health, and helps me think more positively.

6. Positive Affirmations – I write out positive statements of what I want to be. “I am living a long and healthy life.” They don’t have to be true, but they must be said in the present tense with only positive words. Don’t use statements like “I will never worry.” The mind picks up on the “worry” and not the “never”. I say these statements out loud at least twice a day, preferably in a mirror. Stick with it. They are really powerful.

7. Get some sleep – We are much stronger at staying positive with enough sleep. I do have insomnia often, so this is hard for me, but I run through my special wind down routine when I know I need to sleep to keep the worry monster at bay.

Thanks for hanging in through this long post. Please spread the word about ovarian cancer symptoms. If you need symptom cards to hand out, e-mail me at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com, and I’d be happy to mail you some to pass around your part of the country. And as always, feel free to contact me to ask questions. If you’d like to read about my journey, I blogged through my treatment. My entries can be found on my web site under Ovarian Cancer: http://www.heathermccollum.com/ovarian-cancer/

Have a lovely, smell-all-the-roses kind of day! Heatherthank you

One Hell of a Journey

Happy 4th of April! Are you wondering if you’ve missed some obscure holiday? Don’t worry, there’s no need to remember this day unless it’s your birthday or like me, have some anniversary to acknowledge.

Heather & Kids 2010

Heather & Kids 2010

Three years ago today, April 4th 2011, I woke up in a hospital room from surgery to hear, “I’m sorry, but it’s ovarian cancer.” Link to OC Symptoms I call it my most horrific before-and-after moment. From that moment forward, every time I think about my past or see a photograph, my mind instantly files the memory in the “before cancer folder” or the “after cancer folder”. April 4th is the demarcation line.

Everything changed for me that day. I went from running my dog daily to barely being able to walk. I lost my hair, my GI health, my taste buds, my eyelashes, eyebrows, size 6, my long, white fingernails and my ability to write fiction. Life-saving poison (chemo) reached every part of my shocked body. Neuropathy numbness and then constant pain battled against my hope that I would one day again know what it was like to step out of bed without crying with the agony.

“Will I ever wake up again and not think ‘I have cancer’?” Will I ever be able to sing my kids to sleep without silently crying over the idea I might die and leave them motherless? Will I ever believe in happy endings again?

In chemo

In chemo

Surgery to remove all my internal girlie parts, 3 weeks to recover and get my port placed in my chest, 5 months of weekly kill-every-fast-growing-cell chemo, 10 months of kill-any-blood-vessels-forming clinical trial chemo, and 6 more months of detox before the pain ebbed. I gained forty pounds in 3 months with the steroids. I acquired the “moon face” and slight hunch in my back as if my body was collapsing in on itself under the pressure. Constant hot flashes from no estrogen and dizziness and insomnia from medication added to the on-going challenges. Are we having fun yet?

Baldy on the Beach

Baldy on the Beach

I feared that I would never again feel normal, think normal thoughts, have a normal day, and think about my kids all grown up without crying.

But then time moved forward. As did I. And here I am.

I’m here to tell you that I’ve come out the other side. Three years later I now wake up without thinking “I have cancer.” I talk with my 15yo about a prom she might go to in two years without tearing up. I plan my 7yo’s birthday party without wondering how many I will get to see. I nurse my 13yo without worrying that his cold could put me in the hospital. And, I once again believe in happy endings. Wow – what a difference three years can make.

My body has gone back to relative normalness although the scars remain. Marks that reach far deeper than the white scar tissue lines where my port and incisions had been. I have a 3-month exam today and will find out if I’m still in remission (coincidence that it’s on my anniversary? Yeah, weird). Ovarian cancer has a nasty tendency of coming back and killing swiftly so they will watch me carefully for a total of 10 years before they consider me cured. I have worried quietly all week. Even when I’m not thinking consciously about the results, my stomach feels tight and I’m slightly nauseous all the time (which is a symptom of ovarian cancer returning so that doesn’t help me feel better at all).

Heather 2014

Heather 2014

So although I look similar to what I looked like three years ago before April 4th, inside I am very different. I could easily let fear rule me completely. I could continue to cry over the thought of my kids growing up without me. I could spend each night begging God to keep me in this world. But is that living?

I’m writing the sequel right now to my first YA paranormal romance, SIREN’S SONG (which just came out 3/25 –Link to Siren’s Song). The heroine in the sequel deals with paranoia (rightly so considering what she’s been through, which I can’t tell you or I’d give away the first book). I’ve been using the screenwriter’s how-to book called SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder (which I highly recommend) to help me with pacing, etc. To follow the advice in the screenwriter’s book, I had to write out the theme of my WIP. This took me awhile to put down in words even though I’d already written 200 pages of the novel. Finally it became clear as I reviewed my motivations, plot turns and my planned resolution.SIREN'S SONG front cover -200X300

The theme: You can’t fear death or you won’t really live.

Yikes! So much of what goes into a book comes from a writer’s subconscious thoughts, feelings and experiences. I wrote the first 200 pages without even truly realizing what I was trying to teach the heroine, what I am trying to teach myself. Now I do, and I made sure to go back in the WIP and state the theme plainly.

So yes, writing is my therapy : )

Look at my pictures in this post. From pre-cancer (2010), to during treatment (2011, 2012), to now (2014). In three short years I’ve changed six dress sizes. I’ve gone from thick wavy hair to straight thin hair. I’ve gone from worrying about my teeth being white enough to being happy they have finally stopped aching constantly (from the neurotoxin). I’ve gone from being “super-mom” to letting people help me and forming amazing friendships because of it. I’ve gone from worrying about my house being clean to leaving the dirty dishes to sit on the back porch and watch the birds.

Three years can change everything. Do not give up hope if you are on a journey after a horrific before and after moment. Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through HELL, keep going.” It is the only way to get to the other side. One step at a time moving forward.

I continue to move forward with my outside and my inside. The scars are deep, but with time, I am healing. Once again I believe in happy endings and my writing is helping me sift through my fears. I’m blessed, no matter what the outcome of today’s tests are.

at swing1 (585x640)

So April 4th, for me, is a day to honor what was, the journey I made, and the person I am slowly becoming again. And it’s a day when I remind myself of something very important. I can’t fear death or I won’t truly live.

Have you found any lessons in your books that you were trying to teach to your heroine and realized you were trying to teach it to yourself?

Have you been through life-changing journeys, taking steps forward, and coming out the other side?

Hugs to you all! Heather

Cross-Self Promoting Thoughtfully

What are your passions? Writing has been one of mine since my 2nd grade teacher published my Christmas story in the local paper. Eventually I became a mom and my priorities shifted to include my growing family. I became supermom, ready to turn frowns upside down with my arsenal of homemade puppy-dog-face cookies and castle cakes. Other interests crowded in, but for the most part, family and writing remained my top passions in life.

Castle Birthday Cake

Castle Birthday Cake

Two and a half years ago I was given a third. I woke up in a hospital room to the words “it’s cancer” and life thrust me onto the most brutal topsy-turvy rollercoaster ever imagined. Teal ribbons, weekly chemo infusions, pills, doctor’s appointments, mouth ulcers, CT scans, shedding of ALL hair, a mailbox filled with get well cards, casseroles, flowers left on my doorstep, pain, panic, “who will you play with in heaven, Mommy, if I’m not with you” became my life.

When I first saw the chemo ward at the hospital, and all the bald, tired people hooked up to beeping machines with bags of drugs snaking into their bodies through various tubes, I cried on my husband’s arm. “They look dead, and I’m going to be one of them.”

Hooking Up

Hooking Up

What I didn’t realize at the time, but discovered quickly, was that those people are warriors, battling with everything they’ve got. I was proud to get to know them and to become an Ovarian Cancer Warrior, fighting for my right to live and be a mom, daughter, friend, and wife, fighting a beast that stalks women silently.

OC is the deadliest of the GYN cancers as it is the hardest to detect. I was diagnosed because I happened to mention some pelvic pain and mild bloating to my general practitioner when I went in for a possible broken hand. So I was diagnosed at stage IIc with a 70% chance of living 5 years. If I’d waited a couple more weeks, it could have easily moved to stage III with only a 20% chance to survive 5 years. So early detection of these whispered symptoms is crucial to survival.

Suddenly I had a new passion. My husband and I started the SHOUT Against the Whisper campaign with a mission to educate women about the whispered symptoms of this terrible beast. So…I have three passions in my life: writing, my family (although I’ve retired my supermom cape), and OC Awareness/Cancer support.

Me & my Highland Hero

Me & my Highland Hero

One thing we can do, as passionate people, is to blend our passions together in a way to enhance each one. But doing so must be done thoughtfully.

My third book was about to release when I started chemo. Part of me wanted to scream “I have cancer; buy my book!” But the sane part of me knew that wasn’t appropriate (unless perhaps I was writing cancer books, which I plan to do BTW).

I swore to God, the universe, and to my friendly kale juicer that I would use all my talents to educate and help save women if they would keep me alive to do so. I am a public speaker and I write, and I plan to use my skills in any way I can to spread the warning, not just because I swore back in those grim days, but because I’m genuinely passionate about not letting cancer win.

So in the back of my books, I list the whispered symptoms. When I do book signings or workshops or interviews, I give out symptom cards and ask for articles to list them. This type of cross-promoting is very appropriate.

However, this doesn’t always work in the reverse. When on the chemo ward, if someone was reading a romance, I would tell them about my books, quietly and in conversation. I donated some to the ward. At my OC Awareness events I might give away books for collected donations to OC Research or Education, but it is a minor part of the big push of alerting women on how to save their lives. Every time I try to cross these two passions in my life, I must be thoughtful, because promoting my writing in the face of suffering can come across as crass and just plain wrong. Which can completely turn people off to your work, something that should be avoided, obviously, at all costs.

Some passions hit around the same level on the emotional/life importance barometer and can be intertwined easily. If you are passionate about wine and wine features in one of your books, touting your book to wine lovers, on Twitter or FB or in person, can be appropriate after you’ve set up a friendly relationship with them. You still must remain thoughtful so as not to come across as only being an advertisement, but the promo is less tricky than trying to sell romance books to someone who is fighting to stay alive.

Healthy Mom Again!

Healthy Mom Again!

I am now finished with 15 months of chemo and am getting my life back in order, though I will never be the same. I’ve learned too much, felt too much, to be the same. Actually I think I’m better for the experience. In some ways cancer has connected me to readers. One woman wrote to me after reading the acknowledgments at the end of CAPTURED HEART where I detail out the symptoms. She was an OC survivor herself and thanked me for putting the symptoms out there in the world. I think she will be a reader of mine for life now. Sometimes there is cross-promo between very different passions, even passions that fall on very different levels. But it is something that cannot be forced.

So when you take stock of your life and your own passions and interests, do think of ways to use them to help promote your writing, but please remember to do so thoughtfully. What ways have you been able to cross-promote your passions?

Since it is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and because I think it is appropriate, below is a list of symptoms. They are mere whispers in a busy woman’s life, but you must slow down long enough to notice when something doesn’t seem right. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com or on my Ovarian Cancer Awareness FB page: https://www.facebook.com/SHOUTagainsttheWhisper or through my web site www.HeatherMcCollum.com .

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:

Bloating, Pelvic Pain, Feeling Full quickly while Eating Less, Urinary issues.BEATsymptoms

Other symptoms may include fatigue, constipation, pain during intercourse, menstrual issues, indigestion, and back pain. If you have a symptom for 3 weeks or more, see your GYN for a pelvic exam.

If something feels abnormal, a trans-vaginal ultrasound and a CA125 blood test should be ordered. If you have a mass to be removed, your #1 way to survive if it is cancer, is to have a GYN Oncology Surgeon remove it.

Saving Myself

Battling cancer with chemo and Nutterbutters

March 26th 2011
Paper crinkles under my butt. “While I’m here for my maybe-broken hand, could you test my urine? I think I might have a UTI and I’m going away with my girlfriends this weekend to celebrate my 40th birthday.”

“Sure, but lay down first,” Jenny, my nurse practitioner said. “Where are you going?”

“Grove Park Inn spa. I can’t wait!”

Silence. Pressure. Ouch! “Does this hurt?”

“Yeah, off and on.” The ceiling is white and ugly. They should paint something up there to look at.
Pressure. Ouch! Ouch!

“Sorry…Heather, I have to do a pelvic exam.”

“For a broken hand?” My giggle stops short. Jenny’s easy smile is dead flat. “Okay,” I say. “Now? I have my annual GYN visit in another couple weeks and I was just there for some spotting five months ago and everything was fine.”

“We need to do a pelvic exam. Now.”

March 27th 2011
The room is cold. Why do they make it so cold when they know we’ll be in these flimsy hospital gowns sitting on a vinyl table?

“Did you drink a lot of water?” the technician asks and dims the lights.

“I’m about to burst.”

She laughs. “This won’t take long and I’ll let you go.”

“I hope I don’t pee on the table.”

“Well it’s happened before, but we’ll try to let you go real soon. Sorry, this might be a little uncomfortable.”

Wow – another unexpected invasion of the hoo hoo. The transvaginal ultrasound isn’t nearly as much fun as the ultrasound to see a new baby.

“How long have you been feeling this pain?”

“Off and on for about a month.”

“Is it sharp or more of an ache?”

“More sharp when I feel it, but I’m starting to feel a little heavy down there.”

“Hmmm…”

God, I have to pee!

“Okay, go use the bathroom.” She has a sweet voice, like high-pitched honey that I’ve only heard in the south.

Thirty minutes later I sit in a chair in my thin, guard-your-butt gown.

“Do you want something to drink, sweetheart?”

“No.”

“A warm blanket?”

“Sure.” I bundle up in the heated wrap that reminds me so much of the hospital after the birth of my babies. No wonder the kids like it when I heat up their towels in the dryer after a bath. I rest my head in my hands.

“Are you okay?” The technician must be watching me. I rub my hair in my lap as I nod. “You can get dressed, sweetheart, but don’t leave. Just wait out there. Is someone with you?”

“My husband brought me.”

“Good.”

Good? Why is that good?

 30 minutes later
“A large mass?” my husband, Braden, repeats while I stare at the puppy print on the technician’s shirt.

“We can’t get through to her GYN, but she needs to be seen right away.”

“Let’s go,” he says and helps me to the truck.

“What’s that mean,” I say when he starts it up. “A large mass? Is that the size of a pea or the size of a grapefruit?”

“It’s on these films. I’m taking you right to your GYN.”

“It takes months to get an appointment.”

“We’re going now.”

 1 hour later
“You have a complex, 12 cm mass on your right ovary,” Dr. Hawk says, finger to his lips as if contemplating how to get a dollar out of one of those puzzle boxes.

“That’s big.” Braden holds out two hands. “Like 5 inches.”

Dr. Hawk nods. “I want you to see a GYN oncology surgeon. I could remove it, but since it looks complex, it would be best if we send you to Duke Hospital.”

“But I’m going out of town tomorrow.”

“They’ll see you at 8:30 AM.”

“But we are leaving at 8.”

“We’ll be there at 8:30,” Braden says.

30 Minutes Later
I get out of the truck. My neighbor, Margaret, is getting her mail.
“Hi, how was it?” she asks.

I shake my head, unable to speak.

“Is it bad?”

I nod and the tears start flowing – the precise start of my rainy season.

“Oh my God,” she says and pulls me into her chest. I rest my head there.

“It’s a mass on my ovary. 5 inches. I’m seeing an oncologist tomorrow,” I squeak out.

“Oh my God,” she says and holds me.

I hear my 12-year-old daughter, Skye, behind me talking to Braden. They whisper and I feel her hand on my back.

“Are you going to be okay?”

What do I say?

“Mommy, mommy, mommy! You’re home!” my four-year-old, Kyrra, vaults outside to grab my leg. “Hold me!” she demands.

“She can’t,” Braden says and picks her up, but she reaches for me.

“Why are you sad, Mommy?”

What do I say?

“Hey Mom!” my 10-year-old son, Logan, calls from the house. “Can I have TJ over? What’s wrong?”

What do I say?

Braden and I sit on the back porch together, next to one another but not touching. We stare out at the lawn that needs to be mowed. It’s sunny. The birds dip and soar, searching for bugs. I stare out, letting the world absorb my numbness for a while, letting the fear of what could be lay like a wet washcloth, cold and musty, in my stomach.

I breathe in, not knowing if I’d been doing that all along or not. I guess I have. It’s funny how everything feels so still, so muted, like the world is holding its breath, yet the birds keep moving. The trees watch. The house behind me is unusually quiet. My mom has taken Kyrra to her house to play.

“Wow,” I whisper and see Braden nod out of the corner of my eye.

“Yeah.”

“Amazing how suddenly everything seems different,” I murmur, barely moving, not wanting to set everything in motion. As if I’m on a precipice and know that as soon as I look over the edge, everything will start moving way too fast as I head toward the ground.

“It could just be a mass. Easily taken out,” he says.

“I’m not tired. I run every day. It grew way too fast to be cancer, right?”

“Yeah. I don’t know.” He reaches for my hand. It’s as if we are looking over the edge of the cliff together, waiting, hardly moving, to see which way the wind will blow us.

 2 Weeks Later
Surgery. “Stage IIc Ovarian Cancer. 70% chance of living five years. 15 months of chemo.”

“We can do this,” Braden says.

“So many want to bring meals,” Margaret says and smiles though her eyes glitter with tears she won’t shed. “You’re fed for four months already.”

“My little girl,” Mom says. “You will do this. You are strong.”

“I’m selling my sea glass jewelry to give the money to Ovarian Cancer research, Mom,” Skye says. “Read this poster I made, everyday okay? I am a survivor. I am a fighter. I am stronger than the world!”

“Promise me you won’t die. That’s all I ask. Just promise me,” Logan says in the glow of his nightlight, his big eyes full of brave, big-boy tears.

“Who will you play with in Heaven if I’m not there with you?” Kyrra asks as I kiss her goodnight.

What do I say?

I creep back to my room. Each step is a reminder of all the hurt my body is enduring. The tears on my cheeks are a constant. I don’t even look for tissues anymore. I stop by my bed in the dark. The house is quiet, again holding its breath. The demons of fear and panic growl in the shadows, waiting for me to let them in. I lower to the floor, my side where they scraped away the cancer is a piercing, lightning wound inside. I am on my knees and lay my head on the bed.

I. Know. What. To. Say.

“Dear God,” I whisper and the stillness leans in. “Dear God, please.” I think of my wonderful husband, my three kids, my rescued dog, my mom, my friends. “Oh God, please…please let me live.”

****
The above, dear friends and fellow authors, is how I survived. Oh yes, the doctors and drugs battled inside me, reclaiming my body with miracle poisons. But me, the essence of who I am – mom, daughter, wife, friend, writer – I survived cancer by writing about it.

I couldn’t write my fiction, no romance with a guaranteed happy ending since I wasn’t sure I would have one. In fact I couldn’t read either. I tried, but after a couple chapters I’d put it down. I couldn’t lose myself in another world when mine was so gripping, so full of life and death struggle. I was smack dab in the middle of writing my fourth novel and couldn’t write another word.

“You have to write. It makes you happy,” Braden told me.

“I can’t.”

“Write something. Write what you know.”

So I did. I wrote my story. I wrote what was going on inside me. How it felt to deal with questions from my kids. The pain of going from independent mom to very dependent friend and neighbor. Of being furious about not being able to taste the salt in my tears because I lost my taste buds with my hair. About realizing that the victims in the chemo ward were the strongest warriors I’d ever met.

I wrote about battling from the front lines. I poured my heart and fear and desperate prayers into my posts. I bled them out of me onto the page. And you know what? It helped. A lot.

This post was going to be all about how to go on with your career even when something terrible smacks you in the face – divorce, death of a loved one, illness, disaster. But I still need to bleed, still need to heal, still need to write about it.

Today is the first time I’ve written the very beginning, the day the first tears fell, and I cried through writing most of it this afternoon. Cathartic. It’s how I heal. And I thank God for giving me this gift so I can help myself do so.

If you find yourself in a mess, a terrible mess, remember to use your gift. Do what you love to do even if it’s in a new way. If you can’t write fiction, try writing about your experiences and what you learn along the way. It has been a huge component to my healing.

I am in remission. No sign of cancer : ) And I refuse to knock on wood. I beat it. I am healthy, and I’m not afraid to say it. I’m owning it, wearing it and strutting around in it. I am living a long and healthy life!

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and teal is our color. It is the deadliest of the GYN cancers because there are no good tests for it and it is usually caught in Stage III or IV, giving women only a 20% and 5% chance (respectively) of living five years. Those numbers are horrendous and we are raising money for research to find a detection method (a PAP smear does NOT detect OC) and a cure. Until then your best defense is knowledge. The symptoms of OC are:

Bloating that’s persistent
Eating less and feeling full
Abdominal pain
Trouble with your bladder

Other symptoms may include: fatigue, constipation, menstrual irregularities, back pain, pain during intercourse and indigestion.
If you experience a couple of these symptoms almost every day for three weeks, please…PLEASE go get a pelvic exam.

Pass along this information. We have started the SHOUT Against the Whisper! campaign because the symptoms are mere whispers in a busy woman’s life, and we will SHOUT until everyone knows what they sound like. If you have questions or comments, please post or e-mail me off line at Heather@HeatherMcCollum.com.

We must not cower away from cancer. We must look it in the face and use all our tools to crush it without crushing our spirits in the process. Hugs! And remember to SHOUT Against the Whisper!

The Latest Comments

  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: Ooh! I hope you write some of the them, Autumn. I love a snowy meet cute. 🙂
  • Autumn Jordon: Our first snow left me stuck at work and not able to make it home. Boy did I think of a number of...
  • Autumn Jordon: Love this, D! I really don’t think there could ever be enough romantic comedies. That’s...
  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: I love the first snow of the year. It always feels so magical. Happy holidays, Bev!
  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: Yes! I love just falling into the season headfirst. 🙂

Archives