I am not a nice person. There are some who would even call me a cold hearted b****. A friend once told me he wouldn’t want to meet me in a dark alley and he was a prison guard. I simply don’t like people.
Getting cancer, however, was the best thing that ever happened to me. I know that sounds strange but hearing those three devastating words – "You have cancer" – changed my life.
I was diagnosed in 2014. Originally, I was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian and endometrial cancer. That’s what the pathology report says.
Going into surgery, I knew I had endometrial cancer. Learning I also had ovarian cancer was a complete surprise. It even surprised my doctor. It wasn’t until last year though that I learned I may actually have had stage 3 endometrial cancer that had metastasized to my ovaries. We’ll never know for sure.
At that time, all I knew about ovarian cancer was that women died from it. My nurses were wonderful, bringing me informational literature and taking time to let me talk and ask questions. I’m also a freelance health journalist and I was on my laptop learning more about my cancers.
While I was in the hospital, I walked the hallways and started getting to know the other women on the floor. The floor I was on was only for women with gynecologic cancer. I started reaching out to others, asking how they were, what their diagnosis was, how they were doing. I exchanged contact information with them. That was the beginning.
On my first day in the infusion room, I met Melanie. She had stage three ovarian cancer and we quickly became friends. She always told me that the reason my cancer was caught early was so that I could be a voice for other women who didn’t have a voice. I took her words to heart.
After I was declared NED, or "No Evidence of Disease", I turned my focus to writing about gynecologic cancer and advocacy work. Melanie gave me permission to move on but by that point I knew I couldn’t turn my back and walk away. I was in too deep. I had met and gotten to know so many wonderful women, all of us united by a common thread – gynecologic cancer and the knowledge that at any time we could recur or die from this disease. It wasn’t fair.
I started a Facebook group. I shared my story. I attended conferences. I met with my congressmen. I sat in rooms with doctors and researchers and discussed the merits of scientific proposals. I joined the IRB at my cancer center. And I talked. I talked to strangers and educated them about gynecologic cancer. And when I met a newly diagnosed woman, I wrapped her in a hug and shared my contact information with her. I was always available to talk, or just listen. I urged women to see their doctor if they confided they were having gynecologic health issues but were afraid to schedule an appointment. I even referred a few to my gynecologic oncologist.
I’m a Buddhist. At the heart of Buddhism is compassion. My cancer diagnosis strengthened my Buddhist faith. It gave me back my humanity through my interactions with others going through the same disease I was. I’d shut myself off from the world for so long, convinced I was happiest alone and didn’t need anyone in my life. I rediscovered what compassion really was and the meaning of loss. Life held meaning again.
Opening oneself up to others is a risk. Melanie died three years ago, the day before my birthday. I’ve lost other friends to this disease but Melanie’s was the hardest. The work I do I do in her memory. My motto is "No More Women Will Die On My Watch."
It’s hard knowing that the women I meet and get to know may eventually die from this disease. I don’t regret what I do. So many women choose to walk away when their treatment is over and never talk about cancer again, but I run towards it.
I care for these women. We didn’t ask for a cancer diagnosis but we play the cards we’ve been dealt. My life has changed in more ways than I could ever imagine. I’m no longer that cold hearted b**** and I don’t miss her. I’m part of a community of wonderful women that I’ve been privileged to get to know.
The work that I do is a calling and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Women don’t deserve to die from gynecologic cancer. One life lost is one life too many. I will work until no more women die because my heart is open. I now know what it means to be truly human.
This post was written and submitted by a CURE reader. The article reflects the views the author and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.