While she was going from doctor to doctor, I had immersed myself in researching her symptoms and ovarian cancer kept coming up. Before she went into surgery, to confirm what I had already known, I tried to prepare myself for the worst. What I learned was that there is no way to prepare oneself for the fight against this disease.
I will never forget when she came out of that first surgery, asking if the cancer had reached her organs. We said, “No”, and she gave us the thumbs up sign. For the next five years, she fought the horrific disease, enduring a full hysterectomy and a second surgery two years later to remove tumors and 10 feet of her colon. She went through numerous rounds of chemotherapy over the years, including two weeks in Germany for a radical treatment. We never lost hope and kept praying for that miracle, but despite her top-notch doctors, incredible resilience and will to live, she passed away in May of 2001 at the age of 57.
Let’s be real, there’s never a good time to lose someone you love. But I was 31 years old and 9 months pregnant with my second son when she died. I gave birth three weeks later. All I could think about was who am I going to call to tell about his first day of school, or lost tooth, or any one of the million firsts her grandchildren would experience.
Along with my mom’s diagnosis and subsequent passing, came a lot of questions about genetics and how it plays a role in many cases. In addition to my mother having ovarian cancer, my grandmother died unexpectedly at 42, and her mother had suffered from stomach cancer, which doctors believe may have been caused by ovarian cancer. Having identified a genetic history, doctors urged me to be tested for the BRCA gene.
We held our breath and were thrilled when the results turned out negative. Because of my genetic history, my doctor recommended that I have twice-yearly vaginal ultrasounds and screenings for ca-125, a protein that has been cited as a biomarker in the early detection of ovarian cancer.