"They say once you hear the word cancer, you retain maybe 40 percent of the information that follows, but the words 'ovarian cancer' got through alright."
Sherry Hanson has published hundreds of articles, essays and poems. In 2013 she won a MORE Award for excellence in reporting on musculoskeletal issues from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS). She also won the 2014 Paumanok Award for Poetry from Farmingdale State College, Farmingdale, NY.
Sherry is a three-time survivor of ovarian cancer and volunteers in the “Survivors Teaching Students” program for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance of Oregon and Southwest Washington. She is also a volunteer Scientific Research Advocate for the Knight Cancer Institute, affiliated with Oregon Health Science University in Portland, Oregon.
On May 19, 2009, I underwent abdominal surgery and was diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer. Tests at home in Maine had produced all bad results, but I wasn’t any closer to a referral for surgery, so our previously planned stay in a small apartment near our son in Oregon got moved up. I left Maine Sunday night, May 17, saw a gynecological oncologist the next day and had surgery the following afternoon.
They say once you hear the word cancer, you retain maybe 40 percent of the information that follows, but the words “ovarian cancer” got through alright. It was like a bomb going off and life changed forever.
Why Me? I asked. Cancer? I’ve worked out my whole life, never smoked or been overweight, eaten healthfully and always had one or more sports going on. “If you do not have chemotherapy you will die of ovarian cancer in two to four years,” said Dr. Paul Tseng, my Ob/Gyn oncologist in Portland. So, I signed up for Chemotherapy 101.
But what about my “life?” Calisthenics, downhill skiing, weights, my bicycle, kayak and inline skates – these are my workouts and sports, and they are all back home in Maine! I had my issues: bone and joint pain, “metal mouth” and ringing ears, blurred vision, fatigue, but by day 6 after chemo, I recovered.
After that, I began to run again, after a hiatus of twenty years! Portland Oregon is the City of Roses and I stopped to smell them all along the way. I usually walked and jogged three blocks, passing the most stunning assortment of vibrant roses, blooming pink, orange and yellow blossoms any city could boast. Bent over sometimes to keep from passing out I would put my nose against a pale apricot variety that smelled like honey.
I progressed to more running and less walking. We returned home to Maine about a week before chemo #4, which turned out to be the bitch from hell. “Cumulative effects,” is what this is called. There was neuropathy in my toes and fingers, and I started dropping things. I staggered, crashed into walls. My thighs hurt, especially in the night and I jammed a small pillow against my abdomen.
All I wanted to eat was bacon and other salty foods, but everything tasted the same – metallic. I was able to eat crackers, hard boiled eggs, white bread and soup, but the healthy foods I have eaten all my life – granola, whole grain breads, yogurt, fresh veggies I could not stomach. Breakfast was oatmeal. I kept running, trying not to pass out, but I kept on.
But finally, I heard the letters: NED. No evidence of disease. I completed chemo at the end of October and had a clean MRI. My chances of survival at this point were 60 percent, and before I left Oregon in August, my chemo nurses said I was one of their success stories.