Other women with ovarian cancer are dying. Lots of them. Young women, women my age. I don’t understand why they are dying and I am not. I feel a little guilty. No, a lot guilty. I am so fucking alive, I have so much energy, I feel my body getting stronger and leaner and more vibrant each day, and I know these women are fighting with every ounce of whatever is left of themselves just to make it through another day. It makes me scared, angry, confused and incredibly sad.
These women are visible, they are out there, shouting at the world (when they aren’t crying their pillows), making their stories heard. They are funny and courageous. They are doing things I don’t know if I would be able to do if I were in their shoes. Two years ago, I felt myself walking down the same path with so many people – diagnosis at about the same time, similar treatment. Swapping tales of nausea and boredom, aches and pains, doctor’s offices, venturing into the outside world. But somehow, for some of us, life turns one way – our treatment yields positive results – and for others, it turns quite another. I cannot understand or accept this.
My cancer is a quirky mother fucker. I was STAGE III. There are only four stages. Everyone knows that with most forms of cancer – especially pesky ones like ovarian – “early detection” is the key to improved survival rates. Stage III definitely doesn’t qualify as early detection, nor does a tumor the size of a small grapefruit. And yet here I am, two years post-treatment, feeling better than I ever have. There is this nagging thing of a genetic mutation that predisposes me to other forms of cancer down the road, but for now, I am clean. Part of what makes ovarian cancer so deadly is the fact that it occurs in such close proximity to so many major organs (colon, liver, stomach.) Somehow, somewhat miraculously, I think, grapefruit notwithstanding, there was no metastasis to any of my other major organs. Scary as shit, but kind of cool – sort of like narrowly avoiding a head-on collision.
Why am I healthy two and a half-years post-diagnosis, and others are not? No one can tell me. My doctor can’t tell me. I read things here and there about how those of us with HNPCC, while at risk for many kinds of cancer, actually have survival rates higher than the non-HNPCC population. Ironic. Twisted. Still, it doesn’t make sense.
When I hear from my ovarian sisters who are deep in the fight, all I want to do is give them huge hugs and tell them how sorry I am. I want to share the blessings and stupid “good luck” of my own diagnosis and treatment. I would even share my mutation with them if I knew it would help.
Two years ago, it never occurred to me that I would be sitting here now, in my new house, with my awesome hair, fit and strong, with a calm, light heart, gearing up for a big run tomorrow morning. I couldn’t even imagine a future for myself. Two years ago, I thought the women whose struggles mirrored my own would remain in lock-step with me, that our fights might ultimately bleed into a shared recovery and renewal. It was an uncertain time, the future a murky blur, but I took comfort in the camaraderie that I felt with my fellow fighters.
It would be misleading to say that I don’t still struggle. I do. The difference now is that I am equipped with a sturdy body and mind, and I have the strength to face the reality of my life as a survivor, and everything that entails. I don’t know why I have been allowed the opportunity to keep on living, fully and happily, while so many others are still in the trenches, battling the beast that is cancer with every last ounce of courage and determination they can muster. It is the essence of injustice, and it breaks my heart. Still, I endeavor to transform my rage and sadness on behalf of these women and turn it into something positive, and to treasure each moment of this astounding new life I have been given.