I’m running this marathon to win it. I want to say don’t let a wall stop you; keep running, keep fighting!
Cancer of any type is the most horrible disease. But God thought I could handle it and I am. I want to scream from rooftops to woman that say, “I can’t get ovarian, I had a pap smear, I don’t need a pap smear, I had a hysterectomy, I removed this or that.” OH, YES YOU CAN!! I’m running this marathon to win it. I haven’t lived 73 years to die with this disease killing me.
My marathon continues today. Receiving a diagnosis in January 2015 of ovarian cancer stage 3C, it took me quite a while to process and digest my new upcoming life. After a radical hysterectomy, debulking, blood tests, blood transfusions, 36 rounds of infusion chemotherapy, nine months of Rubraca and my fourth surgery, I was back on 12 rounds of additional chemotherapy. Whenever I meet someone, they proceed to tell me “how wonderful” I look. “REALLY!” It’s great, but they have no idea what I really look like. This is the purpose of this article! Making woman aware of what ovarian cancer really looks like.
At age 40, I was in the best shape of my life — never anticipating that anything so horrible could possibly happen to me. And then came the phone call! After complaining to my family physician and gynecologist for over two years, always getting the same answer: “It’s your age (69) and belly fat.” One doctor even laughed!
The importance of this article is to share and to help women understand that there really is so much to deal with. I want to share what’s underneath the cover-up. The pictures I have shared are what’s beyond the makeup and new hairdo. It’s more about the painful scars endured during the horrific process of finding a cure. The scars heal in time, but the mind has difficulty — especially in the dark of night, thinking and waiting for the sunrise and start of a new day. Time does have a way of healing, but it’s a full-time job to process and move on.
So, you decide to go and speak with a professional, but unless someone has been through similar circumstances it’s difficult to relate. That’s where all your new cancer friends enter into your life, like a sister club. Throughout this life altering experience I never said, “Why me?” I’ve been taking this all in my stride and not feeling sorry for myself. When I feel well, I cook, dance, walk, gar­den and golf, continuing in my normal life. When I’m not feeling so good, I get on the couch or bed and try not to get down and depressed.
I did start complaining about my stomach be­ing very bloated, gaining weight and with every visit to doctor they never acknowledged that maybe I should get a CT Scan or CA125 blood test. I finally demanded something be done. My doctor said he would call me in a few days with results of CT Scan. It was about an hour later when I received the call. “Carole, I don’t know how to tell you this. Call an oncologist.” My entire life changed in that 30-second phone call. After a difficult divorce in 1983, raising two children, peaks and valleys, I met the man of my dreams. This cancer was not supposed to be in the horizon. My life was wonderful and continues to be in spite of this disease.
Genetic testing is also a critical part of this disease. I am positive for the BRCA1 gene and chances are I got the gene from my mother, who also had cancer. Both my children were tested. My daughter tested negative; my son tested positive (2% increased chance of cancer occurrence). My daughter had a prophylactic hysterectomy.
My hope and prayers are that women will become more aware of ovarian cancer symptoms. It’s so much more important than the wrinkles, age spots, stretch marks and grey hair. We earned all of them and should be proud of how we look, how we stand on our own two feet and deal with adversities and difficult times. Ask questions, do testing and stay healthy.
I’m running this marathon to win it. I want to say don’t let a wall stop you; keep running, keep fighting! I had to forget the roots since I had a shiny head, not a hair on my body. My hair grew in and I’ve gotten more compliments about it. I’ve been stopped in supermarkets, parking lots, restaurants with woman saying, “Wow, your hair is beautiful! How did you get it that way?” My response is always the same, “OVARIAN CANCER!!” You would have to see the expressions on their faces. Not only did they think I lost my hair, they think I lost my mind as well. I have grown to be proud of every scar and feel I can compete with a lot of biker chicks. My scars are just as impressive as their tattoos and mine have great meaning as well.
As of this week, I had to stop my fourth round of chemo. My CA125 went up and now I’m onto the Virginia Cancer Center to investigate a trial to get my cancer under control once again. I’m determined to get ready to hit another wall, but I will get past it, continue to live my life and win this marathon. I have started my first trial of immunotherapy and “Que será, será” (Whatever will be, will be).
My heartfelt gratitude to Dr. M. Janicek and staff at Arizona Oncology. They have given me reason to sprint!
Carole Puccillo lost her four-year battle to ovarian cancer in July 2018. This article and these photos were submitted in her loving memory by Carole Puccillo’s daughter, Wendy.