Survivor Helps Women Go Through Ovarian Cancer with Grace
Kristie L. Kahl
Against the odds, one ovarian cancer survivor instilled healthy habits, joy and hope in to her life – all of which she wants to impart on to other women going through the same journey.
At the 2018 National Ovarian Cancer Coalition Annual Meeting, Sherry Pollex – an ovarian cancer survivor, wife of NASCAR drive Martin Truex, Jr., founder of the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation for pediatric cancers and founder of SherryStrong.com – discussed the ways for which women can go through their cancer journeys with grace.
To start, she warns women of the symptoms of ovarian cancer: bloating, feeling full after eating, frequent urination, back and pelvic pain and nausea.
Before her diagnosis, Pollex had all of these symptoms. When she knew things didn’t feel right, she sought medical attention; however, doctors misdiagnosed her with irritable bowel syndrome, Chron’s disease and ovarian cysts along the way.
“I remember looking at the (transvaginal ultrasound) and seeing all of the masses on my ovaries,” Pollex recalled. “My doctor said, ‘Well you’re 35, these are just normal ovarian cysts which are common in women who stopped taking birth control … Everything is going to be fine and we’re going to monitor it.’”
Because of this, Pollex never thought these problems could be cancer. “Never throughout that entire time did anyone ever mention the word ‘cancer,’ no one talked to me about it. I didn’t know it wasn’t checked for. I was in the best shape of my life. I was healthy and had no family history of breast or ovarian cancer.”
It wasn’t until the abdominal pain became she unbearable that Pollex finally sought the consultation of a doctor who is a family friend. Following a CT scan, she received a primary peritoneal carcinomatosis diagnosis, or stage 3C ovarian cancer. Even worse, the cancer had spread through her abdomen all the way up to her diaphragm.
After initial opinions left her with a low survival rate, it was her gynecologic oncologist who gave her hope. “He said, ‘If you’re ready to fight, then so am I.’”
Five days later, Pollex underwent an 8.5-hour debulking procedure. She also had a colon resection, hysterectomy, part of her stomach shaved off, her appendix removed, and her diaphragm scraped. Following all of these procedures, she then went through six rounds of intraperitoneal chemotherapy and 12 months of consolidation taxol treatment.
Pollex was cancer-free for just over a year before the ovarian cancer recurred in her spleen and liver, for which she underwent additional procedures for. Now, because of genetic testing from her last tumor that demonstrated a BRCA mutation, Pollex has started treatment with the PARP inhibitor Rubraca (rucaparib).
“I’m excited to see what comes next for PARP inhibitors for those of us with platinum-sensitive (ovarian cancer) and, hopefully one day, for those of us who are platinum-resistant,” she said.
Meanwhile, throughout her journey with cancer, Pollex found six things that helped her, which she also wanted to share with other women with ovarian cancer.
First, she discussed how important nutrition was to her. Since her diagnosis in May 2014, Pollex started to follow a diet that includes an alkaline diet; the 80/20 rule (eat healthy foods 80 percent of the time, which then allows an individual to indulge in favorite treats 20 percent of the time); a plant-based diet (of note, Pollex is not a vegan); a refined sugar-, gluten- and dairy-free diet; eating in moderation; taking supplements; and juicing or drinking green smoothies. All of which, Pollex said helped with her side effects – in that she didn’t feel them.
In conjunction, Pollex also recommends for exercise throughout treatment – a task easier said than done. However, she noted this exercise can be as simple as taking a walk down the driveway.
Because of her menopausal symptoms, she also highlighted the importance of inhibiting certain habits to improve sleep, albeit these symptoms. These include getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night; fighting insomnia with mindful meditation; nightly rituals; and essential oils.
To go with this, Pollex also recommends for women to seek outside interventions to reduce stress, all of which can be done with mindful meditation; exercise; learning to let go of things that do not serve personally; learning to say no; and journaling and reading.
One of the main things that helped Pollex during her treatment journey was giving back. “All of the things I started to do that I saw benefits from, were things I wanted to share,” she said. “I wanted to give back to women (and tell them) what I was going through and let them know they are not alone on this journey. We are all here together to share information and make things better for all of us.”
Lastly, Pollex told the women in the audience to live their lives with joy. “There is a silver lining in everything,” she said. “We can find something to be thankful for every day. I am thankful that I can go out and make memories with my family; I’m thankful that I wasn’t diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I just wanted a chance to fight.”
On one final note, Pollex left the audience with a quote: “Heavy is the crown, and yet she wears it as if it were a feather. There is strength in her heart, determination in her eyes, and the will to survive resides within her soul. She is you. She is a warrior, a champion, a fighter and a queen.”
“That is who we are,” Pollex added. “We use all of that to bring hope to other