On February 4th of 2017 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Referred to Oregon Health Sciences in Portland, Oregon, I underwent surgery on March 16th, 2019. Removed were both ovaries, both Fallopian tubes, the entire omentum, and 6″ of my colon. I was in the hospital for 5 or 6 days, I’m not really sure how long! I was out of it for a long time.
When I was discharged I was welcomed into the home of my daughter and son-in-law, Kryss and Grant Helfrich. I was there for 4 weeks recovering from such extensive surgery with self-imposed physical therapy of walking of half a mile once or twice per day, and lots of near-sit ups. I really needed my middle to get back in shape so I could RIDE! I couldn’t do a real sit up, but I would lie down on my bed and make myself sit up to get out, rather than roll out all the time.
My first round of 6 chemo therapy treatments started a week later. Infusions similar to this were done every three weeks:
CARBOplatin (PARAPLATIN) 10 mg/mL injection
dexamethasone (DECADRON) injection 10 mg/mL
heparin last given at 4:40 PM
I had elected to NOT have a port installed, so this series of medications took 8+ hours to administer.
Probably because I have always been very athletic and was in good physical condition with a healthy immune system, I never suffered unduly throughout the series. If I was quiet the first couple of days, the worst was a slight “whole body hangover” feeling, and I could usually ride without distress by day 3. If I didn’t stay quiet, it took at least a week to feel “normal,” which mostly means I didn’t have a major “whole body hangover.” My doctor was very sympathetic and helpful, and allowed me to schedule treatments after rides and events that were on my calendar. I even got to go on a mini pack trip, and pulled my own weight. At least I think I did!
And yes, I did lose my hair! These besties (Dayna Barbee, Linda Dotson, Beck Scherich and Jim Pritchard) gathered for our shearing party, to shave off what was left to get it over with! Then we went to lunch.
I was cancer free from July 2018 till September 2019 when my CA-125 cancer marker numbers started to increase again, and a CT scan showed some very small tumors. And so, it all started again.
However! This time I had packed up and loaded my horse and was headed out of town to spend the winter in my Bison Living Quarters (LQ) horse trailer in warmer places south. South as in Arizona, Texas, etc. My stop in Portland to see my doctor and visit friends and family ended up being a 6 month stop-over, parked next to Kryss’s training arena. I really had never intended to spend another winter in the Portland area, but here I was, in an RV to boot.
This time I went for the port because my veins just weren’t up to it any more. By the last infusion a year ago, it was quite the challenge to keep the IV’s running, and I was experiencing allergic reactions in my arms in the way of odd swollen areas. The same routine of chemotherapy every three weeks for 6 times brought my CA-125 marker back to normal. Bye bye to the hair that was just starting to grow back.
I couldn’t have been in a better place, though. It was winter, so the only way I could ride or walk for exercise was because I had a nice covered arena, and large barn with lots of room for walking. Many thanks go to Jon and Della Swails at Cedar Creek Stables in Sandy, Oregon for letting me squat by the arena! I don’t know what else I would have done.
I loved spending time with my daughters, granddaughters, and even a couple of great grandkids! I even learned a lot hanging with Kryss at the the clinics she taught. I even paid for some, if I wanted to ride. And yes, I was careful about exposing myself to colds and flu. As it turned out, everyone I knew had sick family members on Thanksgiving, so I cooked my own.
At the end of the series I was put on a daily drug called Zejula. It is a PARP inhibitor, designed to keep the cancer from reoccurring.
Mid May I went back home to Klamath County to finish readying my home for sale, and to camp and ride in my favorite places. My intention is to go south for winters, and back to the PNW for summers, spending most of my time in Klamath County, south central Oregon. I actually did get on the road in the fall, and arrived in Aguila, Arizona for the first stop in my journey in mid October.
I flew to Portland in November, 2019 for my fall check up. The CA-125 numbers were climbing, so I was taken off the Zejula. My Portland Oncologist, Dr. Koen DeGeest referred me to Arizona Oncology’s Mike Janicek. Treatment started December 2019 to include 6 infused doses of Doxil, 4 weeks apart. As of today, April 10th, 2020 my numbers are again going down, with my CA-125 being within 15 points of normal. I will update this page as things progress.
It has ever been my mission to inform women (and their men) of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, since they aren’t particularly obvious. The cancer is particularly fast growing, so often by the time a patient is uncomfortable enough to go to a doctor, and sometimes doctors don’t pay attention, the cancer has progressed too far to be treated successfully. I’m still here to prove that it can be treated, but one must persevere in doing so, stay well otherwise, get lots of exercise, and be determined to beat it! Live, live, live! You can see the meme I use on Facebook here… meme.
UPDATE: October 6, 2020
Frist of all, the side effects from the Doxil were hard to deal with during the winter months, but horrid when the weather warmed up to 107 degrees outside by mid-May in Apache Junction, AZ. Doxil leaves one extremely heat sensitive, even in the mouth and beyond, if you get my meaning. No spicy food whatsoever, and my first sip of slightly hotter than tepid coffee created open sores in my mouth and throat that didn’t heal throughout treatment. The skin on my hands and feet cracked and bled and some days I could barely walk. Getting off my horse after a ride was always a bit dicey, not knowing if new cracks had appeared. Even now, 4.5 months later, my hands and feet still swell, and can’t take much heat. My cuticles are hard and dry as if I haven’t dunk enough water.
The CA-125 cancer marker continued to be slightly elevated so my OHSU doctor decided to try me on a product called Rubraca. It’s another inhibitor, and the worst problem on this has been bowel disruptions. We are monitoring, monthly and so far so good. However, if this doesn’t work, we’ll have to try another infusion medicine, so therefore I’ve decided to stay in the Portland area this winter to be near this doctor.
This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped riding or traveling. As I write this, I sit in the back seat of my daughter Kryss and her hubby Grant’s pickup, as we travel #LadyJCoastToCoast, which started on the Oregon coast, we just stepped onto the Georgia coast this afternoon, and the next coast will be Texas style on the Gulf of Mexico. Stay tuned for the adventure!
My message… don’t let any illness rule you. Do more than you think you can (or that your “supporters” think you should), and live every minute with hope, thankfulness for another day, and faith that there will be yet another.
October 6, 2020
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 NIV