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Ilana’s Story ~ “I’m not defined by my cancer”

01 Nov 2020 by Pink Hope Team
Ilana’s Story ~ “I’m not defined by my cancer”

I was nearly 50 when I was diagnosed five and a half years ago. My birthday was coming up and I never celebrate my birthday normally, but for my 50th I said, ‘This is one I want to spend with my friends and family’. We started thinking about a nice gathering as well as an overseas trip. We had so many plans, I don’t even remember them now.

Then cancer came and changed things.

At the time I was going through menopause and there were a lot of changes happening to my body. I sometimes felt bloated and I’d lose my appetite; I’d forget to have lunch. But I started to realise that I had some few symptoms, like unusual bleeding, that I thought maybe I should actually check with my gynaecologist.

Luckily, there was a cancellation at my doctor’s office when I rang up, so I could see him that same day. In the appointment, he told me, ‘Look, I don’t think it’s anything, but I think you should go and have an ultrasound to see if there is a cyst’. I wasn’t too worried, and I said, ‘Okay, I will do that next week’ but he said I had to go right away. He called a doctor he knew and got me an appointment that afternoon.

During the ultrasound I knew that something was wrong as soon as I saw the doctor’s face. I said to her, ‘Look, I’m a big girl. You can tell me’. She said she was concerned by what she saw.

As I was arriving back at work, my gynaecologist called me again to say he’d made me an appointment with another doctor for later that afternoon. This is all in one day!

By now I knew something is wrong.

I thought it was probably just women’s issues. Instead, this new doctor told me I had a big cyst on my right ovary with some blood flow in it, which is a suggestion it could be cancerous. He advised me to have my ovary removed but asked me to go home and decide what I wanted to do.

So in the next consultation, after considering everything and talking to my sister and my doctor, I asked him to take out both ovaries and do a hysterectomy too. I told him, ‘I just want to take everything out!’. That’s what I said to him, everything, ‘the lot’ – like at McDonald’s when you ask for a burger with the lot. I said, ‘Just do it, do whatever you need to do’.

While I was recovering from the operation, I got a call from my doctor saying, ‘I have bad news and good news’. The good news was that the ovary with the cyst wasn’t anything to worry about. The bad news was the other ovary, which didn’t have anything that looked suspicious, actually had ovarian cancer in it.

My first thought was great! It’s all removed, I’m OK now. But, no, they wanted to do more scans to see if there was any residue of cancer cells in my body. And also, chemotherapy. But they said I was really lucky as we caught it so early.

 

Ovarian Cancer personal story

 

Chemotherapy was terrible.

Obviously, it was terrible, but it’s what had to be done to be okay. There were days when I had zero energy and I just don’t feel like me. I remember I had a chemo session on my birthday, and one of the nurses felt really bad about it, but I said, ‘No! You’re giving me what I need in order to be healthy again; you’re helping me to gain my life again!’.

I said to myself, I have to be positive because this is the road to recovery, and I don’t want this to affect my family. I have my two daughters and my husband, and I didn’t want them to see me in a bad place. Each time I had another test, I used to say to myself, I can’t be a prisoner to this anxiety; thinking that every minute something bad could happen. I just wanted to be free of that feeling, because it’s really consuming

One thing that helped me was my work. 

I didn’t want to stop working; I didn’t take time off. It was very important for me to not lose my environment or the things that I love to do. Everyone was very supportive at my work and I just took my laptop with me to chemo and worked there.

I hated every second of chemo. I hated losing my hair and just not being myself. I hated feeling weak. In the beginning, of course, you dread losing your hair; I remember looking at myself when I was bald, and I couldn’t recognise the reflection. But later on, you understand that hair is not the most important thing.

It was more devastating for me when I got the result that I’m actually a BRCA carrier and I had passed it on to my daughters; both of them. That was harder for me, more than being sick myself.

That was the worst day of my life.  

But I think one of the most important things when you go through something like this is to not disconnect yourself from your community, your family or your workplace. It’s very important to your wellbeing.

The one thing I didn’t want was to be an outcast or labelled with ‘Oh, she’s got cancer, she’s sick’.  Because as soon as people think like that, they talk to you differently. So, I said, ‘No, I’m not going anywhere. I didn’t give up on my life. So, don’t give up on me!’ That was my attitude the whole way through it.

I don’t usually talk about these experiences, it’s not something I tell everyone. I think, yes, I had cancer and it consumed my life for a little while, but in the end, I’m not defined by my cancer. It was just something that happened to me.

 

Thank you for visiting Pink Hope! Keep reading our blog for more articles about breast and ovarian cancer and find out how to volunteersupport or donate to Pink Hope in the future. Pink Hope is a preventative health hub providing essential tools for assessing, managing and reducing your risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as providing personalised support for at-risk women.

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