By Vicki Campana
I was once asked why I haven’t put cancer "behind me"? The person asking was suggesting I pretend not to have cancer anymore. Unfortunately, cancer continues to impact my life and I am choosing not to walk away from it. I am not judging, nor saying you should or should not put cancer behind you. Cancer can affect us all in so many ways and we need to respect each other, but my decision to be vocal and share my experiences is my choice and not theirs. Putting cancer "behind you" doesn’t mean you have to pretend you didn’t have it.
I personally have been so impacted by cancer that I am choosing not to hide from it, and I won't pretend it doesn’t exist. This is what I choose to do. I want you to know that whatever, and however, you choose to deal with cancer is perfectly fine. I respect that! Cancer can impact your life by genetics, family members being diagnosed, friends being diagnosed, your own diagnosis, the list, unfortunately, goes on.
I remember when I was in 11th grade, my Grandfather passed away from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had no idea what was happening to him at the hospital, or what he endured when he eventually passed. As I got older, I almost forgot he had cancer since I was not immersed in the process and we didn’t talk about it. Almost 20 years later I had my own diagnosis - Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer at the age of 37 (specifically, GCT – Granulosa Cell Tumor). Since August 2015, I have forever been changed physically, mentally and emotionally. I currently advocate and want to share my story and spread awareness whenever the opportunity arises. I am also a carrier of the ATM gene which combined with my ovarian cancer diagnosis, and family history of breast cancer on both sides of the family has increased my chances of having breast cancer in the future by up to 75%.
In the last 4 years, I have endured multiple surgeries and challenges because of my cancer diagnosis. I have had failed attempts at IVF and IUI, survived chemo, lost my hair, gained weight, eventually lost all ability to have my own children, removed my breasts (preventatively), and dealt with times of depression. I am proud to say I survived it all and will be 4 years cancer-free in February.
As soon as I thought I was past the hard stuff, my brother was diagnosed with stage 2 non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. My husband Dan and I had just moved back to Ohio to start the next phase of our lives after 9 years of living in Colorado. My brother and Mom remained in Colorado. We made the decision that I would be at chemo with him and his wife every 3 weeks no matter what. I wanted to and was able to be at 5 of the 6 chemo treatments. If I had been “pretending” that I hadn’t had cancer I might not have been able to be the source of support for him I was when he needed it most. He will be 1-year cancer free in a few months. (That’s how we roll – survivors)
So let's get back to that idiotic request to forget about having cancer. Not only was that question stupid, but it also hurt. It made me realize that we all heal differently, and we should respect that. They were not respecting my decision to use my experience to raise awareness. Some days I think it would probably be easier to not think about what it has done to me and my family, but you can’t make changes in the world with that thought process.
I have chosen to share my story so that others know that they are not alone. I do what I do for the people out there who just need to know it is going to be ok and to help bring awareness and research to Ovarian cancer and to support my fellow thrivers. My life the last 5 years has reminded me that I can be strong, fierce, supportive, thrive, and be a badass when I need to be, and that’s exactly what I plan to continue to do.
I have also chosen to be an Ambassador for the Ohio chapter of The Breasties, along with my good friend Marcie. We are working to bring women affected by breast and ovarian cancers together so they can connect and support one another. Is it hard some days? Yes, it is. But we are constantly reminded why we do this and have the opportunity to meet some incredibly strong women in this community. Women are connecting all over the world as survivors, previvors and thrivers! In Ohio, we are able to connect those that live near one another, those that share a diagnosis or a gene, those that need references on doctors, those that have questions about surgeries, and so much more. IT IS WORTH IT. It’s also another reason I won’t pretend I didn’t have cancer. My cancer experience provides me with the means to help others and I plan to continue to use it.
So, when you ask me if it is time to walk away from cancer, my answer is "No". You can choose to forget, to move on, and heal anytime and anyway that you want. This is how I am healing and how I am helping support the need for a cancer-free world. I am spreading awareness, bringing others together and working to live my best life. I will probably never walk away from this community because it has become a part of who I am and allows me to heal in the way that I chose. I have moved on from the past but that doesn’t mean I can’t help others thrive like I am doing now!
Signs and symptoms of Ovarian Cancer - Bloating, feeling full quickly, urgency to pee, and abdominal pain
22,000 women each year are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and each year 14,000 pass from it.
A pap smear does NOT detect ovarian cancer.