From Shock to Strength: The Day Cancer Entered My Life
My medical journey started the day I was born with cerebral palsy. Growing up, I was no stranger to attending doctor’s appointments or spending time at the hospital due to my diagnosis. I learned how to manage the medical obstacles concerning cerebral palsy that I came across throughout my life. I had no idea what other challenges were coming my way.
In the last two years, I have become more and more independent. I could handle a ”typical” lifestyle similar to my peers including driving and working. Up until recently, I was even juggling three jobs at once! Although most people would not want those added responsibilities, I loved the challenge, and being able to manage things made me feel so accomplished. I thought that it helped me blend in with everyone else, despite having a disability.
One consistent challenge I’ve had to deal with on my medical journey was unusual and persistent aches and pains that led to me visiting the emergency room and closer monitoring by my medical team. I always had my tests come back normal and never had any results out of the normal range. Three years ago, I went to the emergency room due to a pain in my right pelvis and was examined further via ultrasound. The results came back showing a small cyst, which is common in women, and at the time was not a major cause for concern. The cyst would only hurt occasionally, and the pain would be fleeting and never caused me concern.
This past February 2023, I went to the OBGYN to check on this cyst when something unusual happened. The ultrasound results came back showing the right cyst was normal, but I also had a cyst in my left ovary measuring 1.7cm. My doctor did not have any major concerns initially, but we scheduled a follow-up ultrasound three months later to keep an eye on it. When I came in for my second ultrasound, I was experiencing no pain and I expected my tests to come back normal as they had been in the past. However, my results indicated my cyst was now measuring 7.8cm. On top of that, my cyst looked like it was filled with a thicker substance and did not have the typical watery fluid.
This left me with two choices—to have an OBGYN perform surgery to remove the cyst or be referred to a specialist to remove the cyst and check it for cancer or any other abnormalities. To not have to go through multiple surgeries, I chose to wait two weeks until an appointment with a specialist opened up. I was told that if I had any serious shooting pain to head to the emergency room to make sure my cyst would not rupture.
While waiting for my consultation appointment, my stomach began to bloat each day, getting harder and harder. I started having my period multiple times a month which is not normal for me. One day, I had a shooting pain and was bleeding more than usual. This really concerned me and prompted me to go to the emergency room immediately. They did another ultrasound and found that although my cyst did not rupture, it grew to almost 10cm. It was so shocking to hear that in just two to three weeks it had grown almost 3cm larger. I stayed in their ER overnight, concerned I would have to go into surgery the next day.
The next day, my care team and I decided to wait until the specialist was available due to how rapidly my cyst was growing. I was still holding out hope as cysts are very common for women to get. While I waited to see the specialist, I had pain in my ovary frequently, but it was never unbearable. It still was not too concerning to me, but my stomach continued bloating.
After a couple of weeks, I finally was able to have a consultation with a specialist. We went over the surgery and what the entire process would be. She said she could no longer offer the less invasive keyhole surgery due to the size of the cyst. That meant we had to move forward with the more invasive surgery so they could take a better look at everything. This surgery would allow the team to test for cancer or cancerous cells, along with other standard testing. They were hoping that due to my age and health history cancer would be rare to find. I also do not have cancer running within my family, making it less probable that it would be the case. She scheduled my surgery two weeks after our consultation, and I had no other symptoms leading up to that day.
Nowadays, it is the norm for people to easily surf the web, Google their symptoms, and self-diagnose. Most of my online searches confirmed that this was within normal and reiterated how rare it was to have cancer due to my young age. Seeing these results further gave me peace of mind along with all my pre-tests coming back to normal.
On the day of my appointment, I was a bit worried about going through major surgery again. I had not been through one since I was a teenager and was not sure what to expect. I was even more worried about taking a leave of absence from my new job. I was already familiar with LIFE, a company I have been a client of for the past three years. I was so proud to begin a job helping other disabled people because I felt that it was a step up from my previous job working in retail. My new job at LIFE is so fulfilling for me and I worked so hard to prove that I would be a great addition to their team. After assuring myself things would be okay, it was time to get ready for the surgery.
I showed up two hours early to prepare for my surgery. My doctor came in and went over the details and steps for what was to come. The surgery was originally supposed to take only one and a half to two hours long. My doctor again told me they would test for cancer, and I would have to stay in the hospital for up to two days post-op. At 8 a.m., I went into my surgery. When I woke up, I looked at the clock and it read past 2:30 p.m. I was so confused and still waking up from the medication I was put on. I looked around the recovery room and saw 7-8 staff surrounding me with focused faces. I then saw my mom and she had a worried, dazed look on her face. My doctor then began explaining to me what happened during the surgery and how another surgeon was added to the team mid-process. I was so confused during this time and wasn’t completely sure about what was happening.
It was then that my doctor told me I unfortunately had ovarian cancer and my left ovary had to be removed. During surgery, she also noticed that I had a lot of feces in places it shouldn’t be, which prompted her to do a more in-depth check. As she proceeded with the removal process, she noticed abnormalities in my colon. She called the emergency colon surgeon and that is when they discovered I also had colon cancer. My inability to use the restroom regularly literally saved my life.
In addition to removing my left ovary, they also removed four inches of my colon. I could not wrap my mind around the news of being diagnosed with both ovarian and colon cancer. My doctor told me it is so rare to have two different cancers at the same time. I was shocked, surprised, confused, speechless. I did not know how to react. Around ten minutes after receiving the news, I felt nauseated, and my blood pressure was dropping rapidly. I let the nurse know I wasn’t feeling well and then blacked out. I woke up to receive a transfusion of three bags’ worth of blood and potentially needed to go back into surgery to check for internal bleeding. For the next few hours, I was being observed by the care team while my vitals began to stabilize. I literally felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It felt like I was watching myself on a TV screen.
Once I was stable, I went to the ICU. I was now in recovery from my surgery and did not have time to process my cancer diagnosis. I was in a lot of pain, but my doctor said that after 10 days I would know what stage my cancers are in. I was still having a hard time wrapping my mind around this. Each day in the hospital all I could think about was going home. After two days, I was transferred to the regular recovery room. Each day I had different pain symptoms, was put on an all-liquid diet, and had continuous check-ins. Honestly, that week I stayed in the hospital was the hardest week of my life. I could not even look at my phone because I had such little energy. I didn’t feel like myself anymore and I was beginning to blame myself and tried to rationalize why this was happening to me. Even though I knew it was not my fault, there were multiple times when I just wanted to give up.
On the sixth day, I was beginning to feel like myself again. Even my mom noticed and welcomed the change. I was able to take a shower and feel human again. On the seventh day, I was trying my best to get discharged from the hospital and go home, after feeling like I was re-living the same day for the past week. Finally, on the eighth day of being stuck in the hospital, I was cleared to go home. When I left the hospital, everything seemed so bright, and I felt like I was returning back to life.
Coming back from staying in the hospital, I was grateful for my mom who had been by my side in every moment. The phrase that came to mind was “Nobody truly loves you like your mom.” Growing up, my mom and I have always been close, but I feel that after this experience we became more attached and closer than ever. Upon learning the news, my brothers in Japan dropped everything and made the trek back to San Diego to support us. They’ve also gotten approval from the Navy to relocate back to San Diego given the circumstances and I am so grateful for that. I think people wonder how they would personally take this type of life-changing news. I never really thought too much about it and felt like I was taking in the news well considering my situation. I was mainly worried about my family and how the news would affect them. I know that I am strong and able to overcome any obstacle thrown my way, but my weakness and my strength are truly my family.
On the 11th day, I went back to my post-op appointment to get my staples and drain removed. It was on this day that I also learned what stage my cancers were in and what cancer caused the other. My colon cancer spread into my ovaries which led to ovarian cancer and cyst growth. I was officially diagnosed with advanced stage four colon cancer. Luckily, my ovarian cancer was removed, and it is not something I will have to be concerned about moving forward. Part of me felt that the doctor was lying, part of me was completely shocked and another part of me was just thinking “Oh sh*t.” I never had any symptoms even pointing to colon cancer. I was then referred to a specialist to go over my chemotherapy treatment. In the meantime, I still have no symptoms of cancer which is still so unusual to me. Sometimes, I even forget that I have it.
I am going to start my chemotherapy journey in these upcoming weeks and am planning on documenting that as well. My diagnosis also happens to fall within my birthday month of July with my milestone birthday of turning 30. Turning 30 is supposed to be one of the happiest moments of anyone’s lifetime and I do feel that I have grown wiser through the years. Being this age, I feel really helped with understanding my diagnosis, coming to peace with it, and accepting it fully.
Most people did not know I was going into surgery, and if they did, they were not told yet of the outcome. I wanted to write this blog to go in-depth about my journey and not hide my diagnosis from the world. I want to have an open discussion and an open mind about what I am going through and experiencing in this new chapter of life. This blog will help me to tell my story to those who want to know, whether you are a loved one or a stranger. This is also my way of expressing my journey and how I am dealing with everything personally. In a way, I feel like writing this blog is a form of therapy and expression dealing with my diagnosis. I will be posting more blog updates throughout my journey and my fight against cancer. I am hoping that others who are also facing the same diagnosis and fears that come along with it can relate to this blog. Know that you are not alone, and we can get through this together.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my emotional journey. Stay tuned for more updates!