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What Ovarian Cancer Taught Me About Myself and Others

Ovarian cancer is a hard taskmaster, but cancer teaches us important life, faith and family lessons
September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Recently, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) tweeted asking women to share what ovarian cancer has taught them. I tweeted that it taught me to never take time or people for granted.

That’s the social media 140-character response. The easy response. The expected response.

A person doesn’t get a life-threatening diagnosis of stage 4 cancer without learning some hard and unwelcomed lessons. Thankfully, moments of enlightenment and joy are mixed with the darker ones. Both are like the fire honing the silver, giving the lessons learned brilliance and durability.

The first unfortunate lesson I learned was that I’m not as nice a person as I thought I was. I was horrified and ashamed to find that I was an awful, cranky, irritable patient. Drowning in fear and uncertainty, I didn’t want to wait for a hospital room, for lab work, for treatment and for answers. To my husband’s great embarrassment, I had no problem letting the nurses and other staff members know this in no uncertain terms. I paced the floor. I ranted. I raved. Fear coursed through my body and came out in a wave of impatience in direct proportion to my frustration at the loss of control over my body and my life.

When it came to my faith, I learned that I talked the talk with the greatest of ease, but I found walking the walk to be an entirely different matter. How could God allow me to be afflicted with primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) in late 2015, only to permit the scourge of ovarian cancer in January of 2016. My faith was devastated. I questioned everything. How could God – my God whom I’ve worshipped faithfully since childhood — allow this? Why did He not hear my prayers for my gait to be restored? Not only did He not perform a miracle of healing on my legs, He didn’t respond to my prayers that day in the hospital when I had the biopsy. I asked for benign. I got metastatic carcinoma.

Those were dark and scary days. I worried. I shook my fist at the sky. I blubbered. But the days passed and the sky lightened. Lessons were learned along the way. With time, I began to see that prayers were being answered in a distinctly undeniable way. I learned church families are gifts from God. Give them a prayer request and they hunker down and storm the throne room. Tell them I’m starting chemo and they present me with a pink and red, fleecy blanket over which they have prayed. They make me meals and they offer me hugs and they are the light in in my day. They are the answer to my prayers.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Ovarian Cancer CURE discussion group.
Kelly Irvin is a multi-published novelist and former newspaper reporter who worked in public relations for more than 20 years. She retired from her day job in 2016 after being diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis, a degenerative motor neuron disease, and stage 4 ovarian cancer. She spends her days writing and loving her family.
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