February 13th – Staging and Diagnosis Day

Two weeks post surgery, 11am on February 20th, we walked back in to the doctor’s office – Mom, Dad, myself and Sonya. They asked how I wanted the appointment to go…same as last time. Which meant I would go back, meet with the doctors, go over everything and then have my parents come back. And of course, the resident walked in again and I started crying, apologized and then I was okay. The rollercoaster of emotions that I go through come in waves, I didn’t see that wave coming.

Dr. Hagemann walked in, I have good news, everything checked out really well, it doesn’t appear to have spread anywhere else, we caught it early. Then came this – “we did have a bit of a surprise though that I wasn’t expecting. You have Endometrial Cancer as well (https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/corp.html.)  It was a small focused group and it was removed.” The smile she’d had when she gave me the good news had slightly faded, but her calm and steady voice remained. “I’m a little concerned that at 36 years old you have two unrelated cancers at the same time” She explained that Endometrial Cancer doesn’t travel so since my uterus was removed during the hysterectomy it would no longer be an issue. I would need to undergo genetic testing since they were worried I may have a mutated gene causing all of these issues.

Treatment plan was discussed – instead of 4 rounds of chemotherapy they’d determined 6 would be the best route for me to take. The drugs they’d be giving me were Taxol (http://chemocare.com/chemotherapy/drug-info/Taxol.aspx) and Carboplatin(http://chemocare.com/chemotherapy/drug-info/carboplatin.aspx)  I’d receive the medication every third week, and my visits would last 6-7 hours (to date I’ve had one go 6 and another go 7.5, depends on how quickly they can drip everything). I had the option of going downtown to Siteman or staying at MoBap (Missouri Baptist) – my choice, a 10 chair treatment room off the medical offices at MoBap. It was smaller and I wouldn’t have to deal with all the hustle and bustle of the cancer center downtown, and my doctor would be only a few steps down the hall. And since I was recovering so well, I’d start the following Monday.

Only a couple of things left – bringing the parents back and a quick blood draw to make sure my counts were okay. Again, she took the time to meet with them, answer all the questions they had and explain everything.

To say that it wasn’t a HUGE relief that the cancer hadn’t spread any further is the understatement of the year. Out of all the Ovarian Cancer diagnosis each year (22,140 in 2016) only 15% are found in the early stages…if you do the math, that’s 3,321. Keep in mind, out of those numbers my age bracket (35-41) only accounts for 5% – I was extremely fortunate. Not to say I don’t have a long road ahead of me, Ovarian Cancer can be tricky, but I have a very good chance of falling into the bucket of “cured” – Dr. Hagemann reassured me that she still felt very positive about being able to use that word in the future.

Sonya, my Mom and me at our lunch celebration – yes, those are wine glasses!

Needless to say, we were going out to lunch to “celebrate” – I celebrate any positive news, big or small, cancer related or not. The waiter asked what we were celebrating…I looked at him and said, “are you sure you really want to know??” He gave me a strange look (happens to me often, the stuff that comes out of my mouth from time to time gets me the looks) and I told him….I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be asking anyone anytime soon what they’re celebrating or that he’ll have anyone come in celebrating an early stage cancer diagnosis.

Do You Have a Wig – Why Yes, I Do!

10 days after surgery, I waddled (literally) into Lake St. Louis Wigs and Cuts. My back was out from being hunched over because of surgery and I didn’t feel the greatest, but this was something I wanted to have checked off the list before my first chemo treatment. I had no idea where to begin looking and I didn’t have the energy to do the research – no problem, Sonya was all over it! She made the calls, did the necessary research and we’d collectively decided this was where we were headed.

The day I picked up my wig

Meet Heidi, who loves her job and makes the entire process as easy as possible- bubbly, upbeat and more than happy to help! She was the best! I must have tried on 5-6 different wigs…different colors, different lengths, different cap styles. I finally settled on one style, in a shade lighter than what they had in the store. Sonya and my mom were with me and confirmed it was the one! It was a bitter-sweet moment…being the planner I am, I had one more thing checked off the list that was needed. Knowing that I bought it because I would be losing my hair was where reality set it.

My mom, myself and Nancy – wig pick up day!

A week later, the wig was in and I needed to pick it up.  I had one week until I started chemotherapy and I had no idea how I would feel, this was something I wanted to do prior to then…only catch is, I really could have cared less and pretty much was dreading it. Nancy called to see what she could help me with, I told her I needed to go pick up my wig, but didn’t want to go by myself.  “No problem, I’ll come with you and we can grab lunch.”  My mom had some things she needed to take care of with her father (he’s near the end of Stage IV Lung Cancer.  Yes, he was a smoker.  No, it’s not genetic), she didn’t think she’d be able to make it.  As luck would have it, his appointment didn’t last too long and she was able to join us.  I’m not sure they noticed…I never asked…but I was very quiet on the way out there and home.  This was the last thing I wanted to be doing.  The “excitement” I thought I might have wasn’t there.  It looked great, everything was just as I would have wanted, but I wasn’t okay.

Now, you may ask why I have a wig if I don’t wear it. The answer is twofold – I wanted to do everything possible to make my baldheadedness “normal” for the children and I really was frightened by the idea of not having any hair.

The one time I’ve worn my wig – Olivia’s poetry night at school

Olivia is one smart cookie, I knew she’d pick up on the looks I’d get…you know, the ones where they stare just a little too long. Yes, it happens more often than you’d think. I wasn’t sure how her friends would take the whole thing and I didn’t want for anything to upset her. The plan was to always have the wig on when I was with the kids. To date, I’ve had the wig on one time when I’ve been with the children.

I had no idea what I would look like, I wasn’t happy at all about the hair loss but knew it was something that was going to happen.  Originally I had no intention of going bald, unless I was at home.  I had no idea what I would look like and I wasn’t too happy about the whole hair loss thing. The plan was that I would have my wig, a scarf or a ball cap on at all times. I’d convinced myself I’d get two – one short, one long, one brown, one blonde. What ended up happening was one, long blonde wig…Olivia and I actually now have the same hair color, which she loves!

I didn’t think I’d be as confident without hair as I am…it’s a side of me I didn’t know I had in me. It’s a pleasant surprise, one that I am proud of, one that my old self, not too many years ago, wouldn’t have been able to pull off. I’ll be honest, most of the time I don’t even realize it’s gone, except for when I get a cold breeze or the sun is beating down, or I get the little too long stare. People commend me all the time for being able to do so. Will you see me from time to time with my wig…most definitely. More times than not though, it will be my beautiful bald head staring right back ‘atcha, there’s your warning!  I’m embracing this temporary loss of hair.


Ovarian Cancer Takes a Lot of Things Part 1 – The Independence of a 36 Year Old Being One of Them

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not one to ask for help. I’ve always had a desire to do things on my own – and yes, some may say this is a flaw of mine.

I’m a part-time single-mom (remember, I co-parent with their father), with a more than full-time job – throw in all the daily/weekly tasks that need to be done around the house and it’s a lot; but I fend for myself pretty well and try to take care of most things without asking for help, always have. The first of the year this all changed for me. I would need help, I would no longer be the person who could go to the grocery store, take her children to school, make dinner, clean my house, etc, on my own. Being accustomed to being able to take care of those simple tasks, has changed and it’s been one of the most difficult things for me to adjust to .

With the flip of a switch I went from living independently with my children, to having someone in my house most of the time since January 5th. If you have never experienced something like this, it’s difficult to adjust to– it’s why I get upset, it’s why I’m frustrated, it’s sometimes why I cry and even scream (yep, I do all of those things…and you all thought I was positive all the time !). I could go on and on and on about exactly how things have changed, but the top five for me are fairly simple things that are the hardest for me to come to terms with:

  1. No alone time: As I mentioned above, there has been someone at my house almost every day since January 5th. My mother had to basically move in with me. If I wasn’t in the hospital, I was at home recovering from one of the two surgeries. Then the port was placed and three days after I started chemotherapy. If my mom wasn’t there, friends would offer to stay with me so she could have a break and go home. I was used to having down time after the children went to sleep or on the days when they’re with their dad, being able to putts around and do my own thing. Instantaneously I went from one extreme to the other, with no in between. I felt as if my life was taken away from me – I was now dependent upon someone to help me do the majority of things – getting in and out of bed, up and out of a chair…you name it, I needed help with it.

I need my space. I always have. This has been almost the hardest thing I’ve had to adjust to. As time has gone on my parents are more willing to let me have this time when I don’t have the children, but there’s always the “what if this happens” or “what if that happens” that comes in to play with everything I’ve undergone. I have several people I can call to help me and/or stay with me if I’d need something at a moment’s notice. Although everyone is usually quiet and tries to keep to themselves, they’re still there…sitting at the kitchen table behind the chair I sit in, down the hall taking care of something or outside doing whatever might need to be done. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful and thankful I have support and a team in place to help…it’s just hard to handle at times and is a reminder of everything I’m going through.

2. The realization that you can’t just go grab a gallon of milk: The neighborhood I live in has a Schnuck’s at one end and a Dierberg’s at the other…my grocery stores are easily accessible. Although I’m not a huge fan of grocery shopping (kinda weird since my family owns grocery stores), I began to miss it. The simplicity of going to literally grab the gallon of milk I’d forgotten or the box of cereal we’d run out of wasn’t an option. I was simply unable to walk around a grocery store to get the things I needed.

The amount of energy it takes for me to do the simplest things is amazing – in the beginning, walking from the car to the store itself wiped me out. Then I graduated to hanging on to the shopping cart for dear life (literally, I was that lady in the store that was using the cart as a walker), to eventually making it through the store like anyone else would. Only catch…I needed someone to help me put the groceries in the car and take them out of the car. Within the last week or two, I’ve been cleared and don’t have the weight restrictions I once did and on my “good days” can go to the store to pick things up…it’s refreshing when I’m able to do so.

3. The ability to drive: In a two month time period I could count on one hand the amount of times I’d driven my car. Most days if someone is at my house, they still drive and I ride. I love to drive my car…it’s my time to decompress, crank the radio up and roll the windows down for a breath of fresh air. It was my time between work and school pick up to sing along to the radio – Yes, I dance in the car and really belt the songs out when it’s one of my favorites. Olivia actually made the comment the other day – “Mom, did you know that you sang every song on the way to G and Poppy’s”. Yes dear, I did..mommy likes to sing to the radio, loudly.

I missed my XM radio…I missed everything the car symbolized to me – freedom and independence. As time has passed and I can adjust to my new-found “schedule” I am able to spend more time behind the wheel – more times than not it’s the 7-10 days before the next treatment. But I’ll be honest, depending on the day, I may just be too darn tired to even think about it. I’m to the point that I will tell friends if I can’t make the drive and they’ll swing by and pick me up, but more times than not I’d prefer to be the driver.

4. Household tasks – laundry, cooking and cleaning: Everyone has their own way of doing things, it doesn’t mean one way is better than the other, it’s simply what we prefer. I prefer to do things one way, whomever is staying with me may prefer to do things another way. I use one cleaning product, they use another. I put something in this spot, they put it in a place they’ll remember where it is. They follow recipes exactly, I like to wing it.

I’m trying my best to not let these little things bother me, but they do. They bother me because I’m not able to do them myself. It’s a reminder that I need help doing things that I once was able to get accomplished on a Saturday morning between feeding the kids breakfast and taking Olivia to dance class. I can no longer do these things on most days…because I’m tired or sick, or both. When I have my good days, I do the laundry and cook the meals…I enjoy doing this, I want to do these things.

The cleaning I’m still not able to manage for one reason or another…I’m still sore from time to time from surgery and I need to be cautious because of my immune system being down. All other things mentioned above, are welcome tasks when I feel like it.

5. Accepting help: This is a MAJOR challenge for me – MAJOR. When people first found out about my diagnosis they’d ask “what can I do, I want to help?” My response was always, “I really can’t think of anything, I’m fine, but if I think of anything I’ll let you know” – which wasn’t true, I had no intention of letting anyone know that I might need a meal, that a play date for one of the children would be great, and so forth. I was going to do this on my own, my parents and I had this covered….nothing could be further from the truth.

Guess what, I soon found out that the old mentality I had of not asking for help would soon change after treatment #1. I was going to need help. I needed to come up with a list of things that could really be beneficial to us. Gradually I let people start bringing meals over – my appetite isn’t the greatest, so they bring “kid friendly” meals, one less thing my mom or I have to worry about. Most recently, I’ve started planning after school play dates for Olivia.

I have never been in a position where things like this were needed in the past. I saw it as being “weak”…yes, I know how that sounds but it’s the truth, it’s what I thought. What I didn’t understand at that time is that our friends and family wanted to help, this was not only good for me, but it has allowed people to feel like they are a part of this process too. No one wants to see anyone go through something like this and when they don’t know how to help, these are the ways in which they’re able to make a difference. If you have a loved one/friend in a similar situation, keep asking, they’ll eventually take you up on your offer.


What I’m accustomed to, no longer exists. I’ve had to find a new sense of normalcy and adjust to what that looks like. Along the way I’ve accepted that I need help. For the time being, this is my new normal whether I like it or not. Does it suck? Parts of it do. Does it become easier? Yes. Will it last forever? No. That is the one thing I keep reminding myself…I will get back to the way I once was. I tell myself this over and over…some times my thick skull doesn’t like to listen though. Right now, I take the good days and embrace the things my old self would have done, and on the other days I use the energy I have doing the things the matter, the things I want to be doing, instead of doing the things that “need” to be done.

January 27th – Life Changes – Total Hysterectomy for Ovarian Cancer

Leading up to the 27th they kept me quite busy. I had the two days before to get things done and figured out. On Tuesday I spent the bulk of the day at Siteman Cancer Center (https://siteman.wustl.edu) to complete scans, which would tell us if there were any other large masses from the shoulders down to the legs, and run through a ton of pre-op work and blood tests. I received a call on Wednesday from Dr. Hagemann, while I was driving, she told me she wanted to give me the news as soon as she could. The scans came back clear and the blood work was pretty positive as well, leading her to believe we were tackling this thing in enough time. Whew! That was a bit of a relief!

My brother and sister-in-law drove in the night before to help with the kids and sit with my parents during the procedure. The goal for the weekend was to occupy them enough to keep their mind off the fact that I wasn’t home. Saturday Olivia, Jaxson, Ethan and Emmett went to the City Museum, none of them had been before. They had a BLAST!! It is a unique place for adults and children alike to run and play – Kyle and Mel were convinced someone was going to end up with a broken bone by the time they left– ha! This also allowed for my parents to be able to spend time with me at the hospital as well, which was really nice.

I don’t think I slept more than a handful of hours the night before. We had to be downtown by 5:30am, which meant I needed to be up and going no later than 4:45am. My mind was racing – how bad was this going to hurt? What were they going to find when they removed everything? Was I prepared for the changes I would be going through? What if the cancer was found microscopically in other areas, what do I do then?  How would I adjust to the new “me”?  The list goes on an on, my head was spinning.

We arrived a little before 5:30am and let me tell you…they don’t mess around at Barnes (Barnes Jewish Hospital). I was up in pre-op less than 5 minutes of arriving, and they start exactly when they say they’re going to – the pre-op area was full of staff, moving a mile a minute. Well, now that I think about it, I was her first patient of the day – ha! Only one minor hiccup during the process – apparently having low blood pressure (below 100) doesn’t work so well with the pain management method they usually use…not fitting inside the box with this lovely thing I now have, seems to the norm.

They made a call to the chief of the anesthesia department to ask them what they suggested doing. I’d warned them that my blood pressure would drop to around 85/55 post surgery and wouldn’t come back up for a few days, based on past surgeries. The original course of action was to have been an epidural – epidurals make blood pressure dip even further and can’t be used with that low of a blood pressure. So, what do you do at this point? Catheter pain management inserted at the end of surgery near the surgical site – in my case, they were on either side of the incision. I think it was an ON-Q pain relief system and it stayed in for 2.5 days. I LOVED IT!!! I will ask for them again if it’s an option.

Now, back to the surgery itself…Dr. Hagemman arrived a little after 7am, as calming, upbeat and positive as ever. We went over last-minute details and when my parents could anticipate seeing me – 4.5 hour surgery, an additional 1-2 hours after that. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what time it was when I actually saw them, initially it wasn’t for long, but I was moved to a room fairly quickly. Once all of that was done, my anesthesia team rolled in, got the “good stuff” flowing and we were on our way – by the way, I had 3-4 anesthesiologist, this was in addition to my surgeon and her team and the team behind the microscopes analyzing what was being removed. As if that wasn’t enough, the surgery was taking place in the designated “pelvic” operating area so if she ran into any problems outside of her specialty she’d have access to an array of doctors that would be able to assist. Some of these things, I really don’t need to know – ha!

Everything went as planned, I came out of this surgery significantly better than the previous one. I still remember rounding the corner at the nurses station on the Gynecological Oncology floor and them all doing a double take – no way this is her, she looks really good for what she just went through…has to be her, we don’t have anyone near this age on the floor. I was able to put together a few words and said “thank you, I think”.   We’d still have to wait for the final pathology reports to come in, but Dr. Hagemann felt really good about the way things went and she still firmly believed the word “cured” would happen at some point down the road.

Word of advice – take your own pillows, blankets, etc with you!

The first night was a little rough, which is to be expected. I had a roommate for the evening, she was the nicest older woman, Carol. Her Ovarian Cancer had spread to other parts of her body and she was in for a blood transfusion. I had the bed next to the windows and made sure that when one of us wasn’t meeting with a doctor or nurse the curtain between us was open. I’ve been on the other side and it sucks looking at the wall! My side was lined with a wall of floor to ceiling windows, she needed natural lighting, and something to look at, plus it gave us the opportunity to have casual conversation if we chose to do so.

Every morning, 6am on the dot the doctor’s were at my bedside. First was the anesthesiologist, checking to make sure the catheter pain pumps were working properly, there were usually two of them. Next was my oncology team – the same four every morning checking my incisions, pain management, food intake, determining when I could go home.

Sonya has been there for almost everything – fitting she’d drive straight from the airport to check on me!

I had several friends and family visit throughout my 4 day stay. They brought flowers, and muffins and pastries for my family and other friends that would visit. The children came to visit me on Sunday afternoon and they did pretty well – this wasn’t the first time they’d visited me in the hospital, so they knew what to expect. Thankfully, the heliport was directly outside my window, plus the Central West End is in the flight path for commercial airlines landing at Lambert, so Jaxson and Olivia had plenty of things to entertain them.

By the time Monday rolled around, I was ready to get home! 3 nights and 4 days in the hospital is enough to make anyone ready to be home, plus things were beginning to pick up and became a little bit busier on the floor. I was finally discharged around 6pm and the recovery and waiting period would begin. Two weeks from Monday I’d be meeting with my team to find out the results and exactly what we’d be doing as far as a treatment plan went…two weeks, feels like an eternity, this was the longest period I’d had without any appointments, tests, etc. I thought Monday, February 13th would never arrive.

To my surprise when I got home, Mel (my sister-in-law) had crafted a welcome home banner for me with all the kids – if there is one thing that could bring a smile to someone’s face, this is it!  Although I didn’t have the children the evening I came home, there was something special there to remind me of them!


Telling Someone You Have Cancer…Telling Your Children You Have Cancer

How do you tell someone you have cancer? When is the best time?   I’ve done a few difficult things in my life, this ranks right up there with most of them.

Outside of my family, my initial group of friends knew that I was waiting on the pathology report, knew that is was taking significantly longer than we’d anticipated, knew I’d been scouring the internet researching the worst. Those were the first calls I made and the mere fact that I was calling and didn’t text…they knew the news wasn’t good. It was easy to tell almost all of them…they allowed me to cry and talk through what I knew. And I think I told each of them “I’m so sorry I had to tell you this, I know it’s a lot to take in.” Each of them said, this isn’t about me, it’s about you…you need to take care of yourself and not worry if I’m okay. “What can I do?” was the most common question I was asked by each of them. For the most part, they didn’t cry on the phone, and to this day, I don’t think I’ve seen one of them cry in front of me…that was one request I had for each of them…if I saw them cry, I knew I would too. And yes, I cry…on my on time, in my own way.

The hardest part was yet to come, when and how would I tell Olivia and Jaxson. How do you tell a too wise for her age 7-year-old girl that her mother has cancer when she knows that “Grandpa Kamman” (my grandfather) has cancer and is dying, that the doctors will not be able to make him better, and not have her think the same thing is going to happen to you? You see, I’d contemplated not telling them, but when I found out I was going to lose my hair, there wasn’t going to be a way to hide this from them. I had 3 days until my next surgery, if you remember.

First thing I did was contact both of my children’s schools and make appointments with their teachers. I needed to know that the people who spend as much time with my children, if not more during the week, knew what was going on in order to know why Olivia and Jaxson may be acting out or have a change in behavior. They were understanding, had resources for me to use when telling the children and had agreed that if they saw anything out of the norm, they’d reach out to me immediately. I told them when surgery was and when I anticipated telling them – two weeks after surgery, one week before I’d start chemotherapy.

Olivia’s poetry night. She requested the wig, she gets the wig!

If you haven’t realized by now, my children have a two family household, their dad and I are divorced. In determining what would be best for the children, I knew this was something I needed to include their father and his girlfriend in, they needed to know what was going on and hear the words I was using with the children. They needed to be a part of this process so we could communicate about any concerns Olivia or Jaxson may have. For example, Olivia is struggling with the fear of people making fun of me because I’ve lost my hair – she is worried I will get my feelings hurt. Had I not told her dad she asked me to wear my wig to a school poetry night, he would have never asked her why she wanted me to wear it and I would have never known those thoughts were going through her head. Co-parenting with an ex is by no means easy, but had I not done so, that concern would have never been discussed and I wouldn’t have been able to reassure her that people aren’t going to have that type of reaction, that it’s a “brave” thing and shows I’m “fighting”.

The evening we told them, Olivia was sitting next to me, my parents were there as well, along with Chad and his girlfriend. As soon as the word cancer came out of my mouth her eyes almost popped out of her head and she looked at my parents to see if there was anything to be concerned about. We reassured her and Jaxson the doctors were going to help me get better and I was going to be okay. I think I repeated I was going to be okay at least 10 times. I told them I was going to get really sick from the medicine they’d be giving me and my hair was going to fall out, but I was going to be okay.

For several days after they’d ask me to explain to them what cancer is, how I got sick and would they get sick as well, over and over, which I’d expected. To this day, they still ask me questions, but now it’s more specific as to what’s going on in respect to me being tired, not feeling well, or something like that.

Here’s the thing – there is never a good time to tell someone you have cancer, it’s up to you to determine how, when and how much you’re going to tell people. It doesn’t get easier…people with any ounce of emotion will be shocked and possibly not know what to say, some will cry (that is the hardest part for me). Some people need time to process your diagnosis, some people may never be able to process it, may never know what to say…give them time. It may be the first time that person has ever had anything like this happen to someone they care about….if they truly want to be a part of the journey you’re on, they will be. When there are children involved, try to determine what is best for the children, limit the information to what their little brains can comprehend and have a support group in place for them so you can be made aware of things happen outside of the home.

Below are a few resources for telling people, along with a couple of books that help with telling children (I read them more for myself, so I’d know what words to use and how to explain it in simplified terms)


Telling Others About Your Cancer – https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/talking-about-cancer/telling-others-about-your-cancer.html

Helping Children When a Family Member has Cancer – https://www.cancer.org/treatment/children-and-cancer/when-a-family-member-has-cancer.html


Books for Children –







Oncologist Appointment #1 – Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Plan

I’d prepared myself for how I thought the appointment would go – I asked Anne anything and everything, she and Chris both knew I was a nervous wreck and having been through this several times before, they’d done the best they could in preparing me. Deep breath, I’ve got this…I had my pen, paper and questions ready to go.

As the resident entered the room, I realized I wasn’t ready for this…she looked at me, said “I’m sorry…” and the tears started rolling down (in fact, they are right now, just thinking about it). They must be used to this, because she was very kind in reassuring me that this was a normal reaction and it was okay. The only thing I could get out was “It’s really bad, isn’t it?”. Which, she couldn’t answer for various reasons – the main one being that she’s not the doctor, she’s a resident.

Enter Dr. Hagemann, or as she introduced herself… “Hi, I’m Andrea. I’m so sorry we’re meeting under these circumstances.” She has the most compassionate demeanor about her…soft-spoken, kind, and reassuring, with a true desire to help. I use the word “compassionate” because it fits her to a “T” – literally, the word means to suffer together and I can tell you to this day, every time I see her she validates that I’m not fighting this fight alone…that she’s right there beside me through this entire journey. I couldn’t have asked for a better fit – we hug every time we see each other and I don’t think I’ve ever had that experience with another doctor prior to this, and probably never will again.

She reviewed everything with me, step by step.   In regards to the question I asked earlier – how bad is it – she couldn’t really answer this. The type of cancer I had was an aggressive, Grade 3 tumor- https://ocrfa.org/patients/about-ovarian-cancer/treatment/staging-and-grading/– the highest grade Ovarian Cancer tumor one can have, it’s more likely to metastasize than the others. In order to determine the staging (which I will not discuss, I see it as merely a number, but it was caught in the early stages, so my prognosis is good, we are very positive about being able to use the word “cured” one day), I had to undergo a fairly large procedure – I would be having a total hysterectomy with salpingo-oophorectomy (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ovarian-cancer/expert-answers/ovarian-cancer/faq-20057780), removal of all lymph nodes from the stomach down and then they’d be performing a very detailed examination of all other organs in my pelvic and stomach region – total time from start to finish, 4.5 hours. Three weeks after the surgery I’d begin chemotherapy, and yes, it was the kind that makes you lose your hair.

The only way to determine what treatment plan we would take, exactly how many chemo sessions or if I’d need radiation in addition chemo, and in order for me to have a fighting chance against this, this is the path we’d need to take. At 36 years old, a hysterectomy wasn’t something I had foreseen in my near future…let alone in the next 4 days. At this time, I’m not to the point where I feel like I can honestly discuss openly what went through my head (let’s be honest, what still goes through my head from time to time), but I will eventually and plan to do so at that time.

After going through everything, I had a comment, followed immediately by a question – I have two small children, I need to get whatever might be left in there out, how quickly are you going to perform surgery? Answer was simple – I’d like to do so this week, I don’t want to wait until next week.

Now it was time to bring my parents back – 2.5 hours in total is what she spent with us. Without batting an eye or sounding annoyed, Dr. Hagemann discussed everything with my parents that she’d just gone through with me and let them ask any and all questions they may have as well.

Surgery was scheduled for January 27th, start time of 7:30am and all pre-op work would take place the following day. Yes, everything happened that quickly.   The good thing about all of this, I didn’t have much time to think about it or fully grasp what was about to occur. To this date, I’m still moving from appointment to appointment very quickly…I had a research analyst ask me this past week if I was doing okay or if I was feeling overwhelmed by the pace of everything. I was honest, it’s a lot to take in, but I’d really rather not have a lot of time to think about everything…am I overwhelmed, absolutely, but who wouldn’t be?

Getting Past the Initial Shock

For those of you who know me really well, you know I worry. Yes, I’m a worrier..I’ve accepted it and my close friends/family just roll with it – ha! When the pathology report kept dragging out, I’d started researching the worst – Ovarian Cancer – trying to prepare myself, so if I got the call telling me such, I’d be able to listen. Does that thought process work one might ask? Hell no, it doesn’t work! I don’t think you’re ever ready for news that you or a loved one have cancer. If you don’t have some kind of reaction, you’re not human. But I was able to hear what she was saying and ask for everything I could think of…including how bad is it (answer, in case you’d like to know “sweetie, it’s aggressive”). I had the report sent to my email and I knew what I needed to do next.

When my mother entered the house, I’m sure she knew by the look on my face – I told her I had Ovarian Cancer, she flipped out, which is to be expected, and I told her I couldn’t take care of both her and myself right now. I needed for her to figure out what she needed and I needed time. I called her friend, Sonya, and asked her to come over to support my mother because I could not.

My first call was to a friend, a little younger than I am, who is a three-time cancer survivor. Anne is the wife of one of my co-workers whom I became close with during a campaign I managed at work with the St. Louis Blues – strange enough the campaign was for their 2016 Hockey Fights Cancer initiative and Anne was the featured survivor UMB (company I work for) had selected.   Okay, I’ll be honest, I didn’t just call her…when she didn’t answer, I group texted both Anne and Chris…in typical “me” fashion, I went a little over board!

The next 1.5 hours went like this – Anne got back to me and I told her what I’d found out, trying not to cry so she’d be able to understand what I was saying. I knew where I wanted to be, Siteman Cancer Center, here in St. Louis. My first question to Anne was, how do I get an appointment, my doctor doesn’t know anyone there to refer me to? What I didn’t know at the time was that Anne sits on a patient advisory board with one of the doctor’s from the Gynecological Oncology team, Dr. Andrea Hagemann. I didn’t even have to ask – “I’m going to call her office and leave a message and email her”. While Anne was doing that, we’d decided I would call the office to at least get my name on the books – first thing I could get was 2 weeks out. Anne received a response within no time, asking for my contact information and that Dr. Hagemann would see me on Monday afternoon and her team would be contacting me (it was a Thurday afternoon). I went from 2 weeks out, to two business days later having an appointment. I forwarded what information I had and their team started reviewing everything for my upcoming appointment.

I can never thank Anne enough for the manner in which she handled my call – Chris and Anne both knew I had a pathology report I was waiting for and that there was a chance it wouldn’t be good, so they’d been checking in. She was calm, reassuring and positive during the entire process. Although she may not have known exactly what to do, one would have never known. She spent time walking me through what the appointment could possibly look like from her experience, and gave me an idea of what to expect. Anne had prepared me for what I was up for and I’ll be forever grateful to her.

Once the appointment was set, I walked out to inform my mother (and father who had by now made his way to my house) of what was going on, who we were seeing and when. They compared notes to what other doctors from other states had recommended and Dr. Hagemann was on the team everyone had suggested.

I had 30 minutes to pull not only myself together, but my mom, dad and Sonya, because my children would be coming home from school and I didn’t want them to recognize something might be wrong.

I know the question you’re all wondering — you didn’t call anyone, you didn’t tell anyone during that time period? The answer is yes, yes I did. I made the phone calls necessary in order to get my “people” informed so I had support…to be honest, it’s one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do…inform someone that you have cancer.






Let’s Start From the Beginning

Everyone has resolutions for the start of the year, right?? Okay, some of you are shaking your head, but in the back of your mind you have things you’d like to do differently/change, we all do.

2017 was going to be my year…the year I had no regrets, got my voice back and said/wrote what I felt no matter what the outcome may be (Glennon Doyle Melton said it best in one of her Facebook posts earlier this year – “Try saying what you really feel, what you really see, what you really want, what you really love, what you really mean…”) , the year I started doing things to show my daughter and son there are no boundaries and they can do anything, to start building family traditions with them…it was the year for my Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim of the Grand Canyon…I was going big and bold. My shitkickers were dusted off and I was ready to go!

Thankfully, they were dusted off…I just didn’t know at the time why I’d really need them…January 19th at 12:07pm, I discovered why.

2016 ended with what I thought was a slight UTI, but I just couldn’t seem to kick it. January 2nd came and I went to Urgent Care (AFTER the Winter Classic…The Blues beat the Blackhawks, in case you missed it! Let’s Go Blues!!), they gave me another form of antibiotics, but nothing. Finally on January 5th Mo, who’s part of my “Home Team” and an NP, told me to go to the ER this had been going on long enough. Reluctantly I agreed and had my mother take me. What I would find out at 1:46am was that I had a “large” mass on my right ovary, they would be contacting my OBGYN and that I’d be staying overnight to manage the pain. What I haven’t explained is the amount of pain I was in…no, I wasn’t pregnant, but felt like I was in the early stages of labor.

The large “cyst”.

The concern I should be feeling at this point hadn’t set in yet, that would come the next morning when my doctor arrived at the hospital. My first question: “large mass means what?”. I’m a visual person, I needed to know what we were dealing with. Answer: “10cm or so, it’s a complex/dermoid cyst, nothing to worry about, it will be removed and you shouldn’t have any problems. We’ll biopsy it just to be safe. Oh, and I’ll draining the other cyst in your left ovary, it’s about 6cm but appears to be only fluid”. Do what?!? I have not one, but 2 cysts of substantial size on each of my ovaries…I was now worried. I spent two more nights in the hospital, to be released to rest at home for two days before returning for surgery on January 11th.

Now, I’ve had several surgeries, no big deal – they’ll go in, remove what they need to and be on my way. I was worried, really worried. You see, I’d returned from a trip on December 31st and told my mother on January 1st that I was having genetic testing done to make sure I didn’t have a Breast Cancer gene since my grandmother on my Dad’s side is a Breast Cancer survivor, something was telling me I needed to have this done.

The small “cyst”

7:30am on January 11th I headed back for surgery, the same time I was supposed to be boarding a plane for Denver with my children for MLK weekend, their first time snow skiing. Surgery went as planned, nothing looked out of the norm, I should have the results by the end of the day on Friday, January 13th. …the 13th came and went, as did the 16th. The morning of the 17th I texted Dr. McDonald to see if she’d heard anything…the response, “I’m giving them until after lunch and then I’m going to see what I can find out, I’ll keep you posted”…18th, nothing.

Morning of the 19th I rode with my Mom to take the children to school, wished one of my closest friends a happy birthday and safe travels, and told myself I’d give her until 1pm, then I was going to text again…she beat me to the punch.

When a doctor starts a phone call with “How are you feeling?” and not “I have good news” you know things aren’t headed in the right direction. Although I can’t remember word for word what she said, it went something like this… “honey, I have some bad news. I’ve been contemplating all morning if I should have you come in or call you on the phone. You have Ovarian Cancer and we need to get you to an Oncologist soon…” No matter how much you prepare yourself for the news, you’re not prepared. I asked her to give me a second and I cried (more like sobbed), took a deep breath and started listening and asking questions….then I sat in the kitchen and waited for my Mom to get back.


Meet My “Home Team” — Okay, it’s really more like a Village!

My “Home Team” – L to R (back) Jim, Joe and Lesley, Frank and Nancy, Steve and Kae, my Dad, my Mom, Peggy, Steve, Donna, Kim, Jacob, Erin, Jason and Lilly. L to R (front) Mo, Gigi, Meri, Jaxson, Ted, Olivia, Carrie, Harper, Tracy and Britlyn (Behind the camera – Amy Jackson)


“Home Team” – the people you can rely on no matter what, the ones who will answer the phone at 2:30am and drop everything to help you out. Or in my case, the ones that drop by the house at 6:30am to grab something out of Olivia’s room because she forgot to take it with her and she needs it for school, or have lilies planted in my patio pots by 8am on a Monday morning so they would bloom right around Mother’s Day.  I could not have made it through the last two months without any of these people.

Saturday afternoon those that were able to come, showed up in mass quantity to support me buzzing my head. They have helped with meals, getting to appointments, loving on my children when I wasn’t feeling the best, visits and countless messages and phone calls…many of them aren’t pictured because it wasn’t feasible, and you all know who you are – my “Home Team” spans from one side of the country to the other!

You may ask why I had a party to “celebrate” this occasion. The answer is twofold –losing my hair was going to be on my terms, it is the only decision I’ve had a say in during this entire thing, and whatever I needed to do to make this easiest for my children (and let’s be honest, myself) was what I was going to do. So instead of shaving my head with merely my parents and Olivia and Jaxson, I thought it would be better to have distractions and a large group of people to lighten the mood a bit. And it seemed to do the trick!

My face says it all in this photo…and yes, Olivia and I make the same faces – ha!

The day was perfect, we couldn’t have asked for better weather, which allowed for everything to be done outside – the kids were able to play in between turns and there was plenty of room for everyone. Leading up to the moment I had to take a few deep breaths, followed by “Okay, let’s do this!” I had no idea Olivia and Jaxson would be o excited to grab the clippers and have at it…let’s just say they are very well hidden!

Jaxson was a little too excited about getting started

Olivia started the process, with Jaxson following. I hadn’t anticipated they’d want to just keep taking turns, but that’s what ended up happening. With the help of others the two of them literally divided and concurred my hair, with Lilly stepping in at the end. I was very proud of them  you could hear me asking them “How’s it look?”, “Everything going okay?” or on most occasions, me reassuring them they were doing an excellent job!

https://youtu.be/vM73B6Y-hPc (link to video)

Although it may have appeared that I was on board by my smile and reassuring words, that was not the case. Leading up to Saturday, I was trying to convince myself it might not all fall out, you can wait a little bit longer. Let’s just say the brush at the salon earlier in the afternoon said otherwise…it was full of hair, which made me feel better about the decision.

This is just from combing my hair out – I felt awful for the poor girl!

The apprehension wasn’t so much about losing the hair, it was more that there wasn’t going to be a way to keep this to myself much longer. I was about to go public with the fact that I have Ovarian Cancer and I wasn’t quite sure I was ready. Would people look at me just a little too long or stare from afar? Would they run in the opposite direction, or hug me just a little longer than they should? Or would they avoid me and the fact that my Cancer diagnosis was staring them straight in the face? These are all things that ran through my head – for someone who HATES having the spotlight on her, it was something I was/am dreading.

I realize this was a difficult thing for some of my friends and family to watch – it made everything more real for them too. Up until that point I didn’t look too sick, minus the weight loss, dark circles and fatigue…oh, and the lovely port, can’t forget about the lovely port (more to come on that!). But they showed up, they showed up and put any feelings aside they may have in order to make sure I had what I needed in order to get through this process…I will never be able to thank them enough (including those who were there in spirit).

All in all, losing my hair wasn’t really that awful. I didn’t look as bad as I thought I might, everyone seemed to be holding it together pretty well, and all of the children seemed to be okay with what had transpired. It was exactly what I needed…I got through it with friends and family around me for support, with a smile on my face, all while enjoying a lovely evening.

And to answer the question you’re all dying to ask – “Are you going to tell us how you found out?” Yup, sure am! For the next couple of posts we’ll rewind a bit and catch up to the present.


Helpful tips if you, a family member or a friend find themselves throwing a party for this particular reason:

  1. Allow yourself enough time to prepare, if you have the luxury – I knew from the first appointment with my oncologist that I would be losing my hair. Ask, they will tell you, they don’t sugarcoat things at all!
  2. Customize something special – for me it was a stemless Tossware champagne flute I found on Etsy (You Got Personal is the “store” –https://www.etsy.com/listing/275635454/plastic-personalized-champagne-flutes ) . This gave everyone something to take with them, they were a huge hit!
  3. Go buy a new pair of clippers. Just do it, save yourself the worry of “What happens if the clippers I’ve had for the last 10-15 years can’t quite cut a whole head of hair?” Target has plenty to choose from at very reasonable prices.
  4. If you are able to, find a photographer, preferably someone who knows you well to capture the event. Amy (Farnsworth) Jackson didn’t bat an eye when I asked her to do so…I knew it was out of the norm, but she didn’t hesitate! Ask them to not only take photos of the actually hair loss, but also capture a few great shots with you and your loved ones with a full head of hair one last time – I’m so glad I did!
  5. Make sure others take photos and videos as well..you have no idea what is transpiring and it gives you an opportunity to see everything after.
  6. Do something special for yourself – get your hair done or a mani/pedi – by this point, you deserve it!
  7. Try to enjoy the gathering..as frightening as the whole process is, allow yourself time to smile and laugh and remember that you’ve got this and everyone is there for you!



Amy Jackson – The woman behind the camera!
Kim and Erin
Carrie – we’ll refer to her as my “sister”
My Dad!













Yes, I have Ovarian Cancer…

Many of you are completely caught off guard by this post. I’ve seen the reaction multiple times – you’re sitting there with your mouth wide open, your hand possibly covering it as you stare in shock and possibly start to tear up/cry. And my first response back is “I’m okay, I’m going to be okay…I have to be, I don’t have a choice”. And most days, I am okay.  I have an early stage of Ovarian Cancer and had a focused form of Endometrial Cancer as well (the Endometrial Cancer was a surprise we weren’t anticipating), and I’m lucky to be with a team of 8 wonderful doctors at Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.

To date I’d shared the news with a small group of family and friends in order to allow myself time to focus on my children and me – I’ve been through a lot in the last 7 weeks and needed some time. My first priority was to make sure Olivia and Jaxson adjusted to our new found state of living for the time being, and that they understood as much as they can for their ages. Next was getting through my first round of treatment, which I started 2 weeks ago tomorrow.

The easiest way to go through the hundreds of questions I get when people find out is a quick Q&A, so here we go:

You have Ovarian Cancer??: Yes, I have Ovarian Cancer, at age 36. No, there aren’t many of us running around in my age bracket with this awful disease. And although I’m not regularly asked, the look on one’s face is enough…the prognosis is positive, as is my outlook, but I have a long road ahead of me.

How are the children, do they know?: They are doing remarkably well for what we’ve been through. Yes, they are aware that I have cancer. If there was a way I could have kept it from them I probably would have, but that wasn’t an option. Being that I was in and out of the hospital 3 times in the month of January, they were beginning to worry, plus the treatments would make me lose my hair and I wasn’t really sure how you explain that without giving them the truth.

Jaxson can only focus on my “haircut” and “new hair” (that’s what he calls my wig). And Olivia asks really informed questions for a 7 year old. For instance: “Mommy will I get sick too?” Me: “No honey, you can’t catch cancer.” O: “No, I mean when I’m your age, am I going to get sick just like you?” After quickly trying to rack my brain for what to say I told her the truth. “I’m working with the doctors to try and figure that all out.  I’m hopeful that that will not be the case and you’ll be just fine.”

Are you Scared?: The answer is without a doubt, HELL YES, I’M SCARED! The “c” word in and of itself is scary enough, add ovarian in front of it and it’s a whole new ballgame! Some say I’m really brave and handling this very well…I’m not brave, I’m just doing what needs to be done, the most graceful way I know possible. And some days that may mean I come across as a sailor who curses too much, but ends everything with “but I know it could be worse, so I’m okay”

Did you have any signs?: Yes, almost all of them, but I didn’t recognize them. The one thing you have to understand is that they mask themselves as other things. I blamed work, things going on in my personal life, the upcoming holidays, etc.

What are the signs you might ask – loss of appetite/feeling full quickly when eating, loss of weight, exhaustion, heartburn, bloating (didn’t have this one), frequent urge to urinate and a couple others. The recommendation I will make to everyone is do yourself a favor, if you have any symptoms that last longer than 2 weeks, go to the doctor just to verify what you think in your head (mine was telling me stress) is actually what’s going on. Clearly, I did not, so I’m not one to talk on putting things off – ha!

Do you have to have Chemo?: Yes, I have 6 treatments, every 3 weeks. They last 6 hours each time. For those who  have received chemotherapy, the next question is what drugs – Taxol and Carboplatin – they’re hitting me pretty hard since I’m young and can recover better than older patients (average age for Ovarian Cancer is 61).

What about radiation?: Not at this time

How are you feeling?: As of today, pretty decent. I’m at the midway point between treatments and am able to get a good chunk of things accomplished. The number of “good days” will dwindle as the treatments go on and my “dip days” will increase in duration, so I’m trying to do what I can, when I can right now.

You had a party to shave your head?: Yup, sure did! I haven’t had much of a say in any of this, so when it came to when my hair would fall out I wanted to make the choice as to when it went, not taking a shower one morning and seeing it falling out in clumps on the floor. I also wanted the children to play a part and have our friends and family around that were close enough to participate. This was a way for me to have a voice – I’ll introduce my “Home Team” tomorrow — it was a really nice time!

Now that that’s done, you’re probably wondering why a blog. Why not? There are a little over 22,000 new diagnosis each year (makes up less than 2% of all cancers diagnosed annually), and each year a little over 14,000 lose their battle to the disease (5 year average survival rate of all stages combined is 46.2%). Most people don’t event know what to look for and those in their 30’s don’t have it on their radar as a possibility. So, why wouldn’t I write about my experience if it couldn’t help another young woman in the same situation. Why not try to raise awareness?

To start I’ll catch up on what’s happened to date, introduce you to my wonderful team of nurses and doctors…I have a lot of them (!) …and include some fun along the way! Be prepared, I have big things in store for Ovarian Cancer Awareness month in September an I’m going to need all hands on deck for support!