Doing metastatic ovarian her way


14 years and counting.I had lunch with my friend Fran DiGiacomo yesterday. We don't get to see each other as much as we did when we were in a weekly group at the Cancer Support Community (formerly Gilda's Club) five years ago. I facilitated a group called Engaging the Spirit back then, and Fran always came and shared her spirit with us because she had enough a lot of spirit to share. I met Fran initially around 2000 when she called me because she was looking for an editor for her book I'd Rather Do Chemo than Clean Out the Garage. Always one who enjoys humor around cancer (my show is called One Mutant Cell) I didn't have time, but got hooked by Fran's spirit. Fran was dealing with her second bout of cancer then. She had grown up knowing if she made it past 40, she would be doing well. She had already faced down breast cancer, and, at the time, was dealing with metastatic ovarian cancer. She handled it the same way she had the breast cancer. Take out the cancer, give her chemo and then just leave her alone to paint. I think by the time I met her she had had multiple surgeries during which she had lost her colon to a j pouch and most of the other innards. Luckily, the cancer seemed to like the peritoneal cavity and decided not to move on to other organs, so she was on a regular regimen of debulking surgeries and then chemo. She also carefully researched complementary approaches, some of which had to have worked for her to look so good at 14 years out from diagnosis. Her most powerful medicine has been paint – the kind she uses to do her still life paintings and portraits of the city's elite. She told me about a time when she was so sick she could hardly stand up, but she met with a client to talk about a portrait and immediately felt much better. Fran is very private about her bad days. You don't hear from her or her husband Len, and she just mentions in passing any hospital stays. It's just part of her life now, and she would rather it be treated that way. When not painting, Fran is researching doctors, drugs and new complementary approaches to see how she will take on the cancer in the next round. This has been her longest remission – almost two years. And she has enjoyed every minute of it. Fran has lived longer than she ever imagined, and the past three years have been the great miracle for her as she has watched her two sons marry and become fathers, which means she is a grandmother. Every month or so she can be found in California for a week, playing with her 3-year-old grandson, Paul, in Los Angeles before heading to San Fran to see granddaughter, Quinn. And there is another one on the way. It's just a miracle, Fran keeps saying, it's just a miracle.

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