Cancer: And So the Story Begins

I am one of those people who probably tells more than they should. If I were a celebrity the tabloids would love me. I can be brutally honest, and I don’t care much what others think of how I live my life.

Last week something happened to me, something you might consider a “life changing event.” I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

This is my story. It’s long, so I’ll be telling it in segments. And stay tuned. Despite the inevitable ending (the same ending you will have one day as well, my friend), I plan on being around for a long time:

5/29/13, Wednesday: THE BEGINNING

I turned over in bed and felt a sharp twinge of pain in my abdomen. It was Tuesday morning. It was as simple as that.

I got up, ate an early lunch, and felt nothing the rest of the day.

The next morning the pain was back, only worse. I could barely walk to the bathroom. I had to sit on the bed while I brushed my teeth. It felt suspiciously similar to the duodenal diverticulitis I’d had twice in the past seven years, with the last episode just a year ago, only this time it was in a different location and I felt nauseous. I knew the drill: CT scan in the emergency room and antibiotics with lots of bed rest at home.

I called my doctor’s office, and they said they would fit me in. I took a quick shower and woke up my son and his girlfriend. The pain was so intense that I knew there was no way I would be able to drive myself.

In the back of my mind, I wondered if there was any possibility of this being related to some annoyingly odd issues I had been having. For the past four months I had been telling anyone who would listen, including my doctor and dermatologist, that something was out of whack with my hormones. I had been experiencing extremely oily skin, unrelenting acne, and hair loss. In addition, the last two months it dawned on me one day that I often felt full after three bites and that I was going to the bathroom a lot more frequently than normal.

My doctor said it was almost certainly related to too much estrogen, and advised I stop taking the estrogen patch he had prescribed six months earlier for some extreme menopausal symptoms I had been experiencing (mainly hot flashes and depression). The dermatologist told me acne was essentially incurable, then rattled off a long list of possible treatments, and we decided on a benzoyl peroxide facial wash, Pan Oxyl, a thin layer of Finacea each night (which the box says is for rosacea, something the dermatologist never mentioned),  and some type of pill to be taken that might kick the acne out of my system. I discovered at the drugstore that this pill was not covered by my insurance and would cost $1,000 out of pocket for 30 pills! Um, no. I was frustrated. I wanted to know why this was happening, not just what to do about it.

Bryce Canyon NP

What I did after seeing the doctor and dermatologist: went hiking in Bryce Canyon NP.

The benzoyl peroxide was harsh at first, but I did notice results, and the Finacea also seemed to make a difference. I continued to have breakouts, and they were the deep cystic kind of zits, but repeated dabbing with some Neutrogena Fight and Fade gel usually helped them heal quicker. Despite washing my face sometimes three times a day, every morning there would be a new crop of zits on my chin or along my hairline.

Even more distressing was the hair loss. I have always had very thick, fine-textured hair, so there was plenty of hair to spare before the hair loss would become noticeable. Also, I could wash my hair in the morning and it would be greasy by the end of the day. I felt like I was 14 again. I tried shampoo after shampoo, looking for something that would keep it from getting greasy so quickly, but without drying out the ends.

I was frustrated and felt mildly unsettled after seeing my doctor and dermatologist, as if my concerns were somehow not being taken seriously. Both doctors are excellent, but it all just played into my general unsettling sense of becoming more invisible to society the older I get. Of course acne is not life threatening, but I had just turned 53, dammit, and had already paid my dues years ago on that front! The hair loss was even more distressing, and I had visions of myself turning overnight into an old, hunched over, white haired crone with hair so thin you could see through to the scalp. I had a cane and was chasing kids and dogs off my lawn. I might even be missing a few teeth.

Angel's Landing, Zion NP

My death-defying hike to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion NP a month before the pain shut me down.

One day, while playing Super Sleuth on the internet to find a reason and solution for the acne, I ran across a comment by someone who said her sister had suddenly begun having horrible acne in her 40’s, went to the gynecologist for a regular check-up, and was told “after one look” that she had ovarian cysts. That one comment was enough to peak my interest enough to start reading about ovarian cysts and cancer.

I did some digging and discovered ovarian cysts can indeed cause some of the same symptoms I had been experiencing, but there was very little real info to be found. Most sites didn’t even mention acne or hair loss in conjunction with ovarian cysts. If this one comment was legit, it was the first time I had heard anyone make that connection. And if it truly was a possibility, I knew it could be a player in the new pain in my lower left abdomen.

The doctor’s office was thankfully not very crowded. The only other person waiting was a fabulous looking 78 year old woman with thyroid cancer. She shook her head slowly, smiled, and told me, “These doctors just take your money and create new symptoms to keep you coming back. It’s all about making money.” Then she talked about the coming rapture and how she’s “seen it all coming” since she was a little girl in church. I steered the discussion towards politics and Obama, and we both agreed on how disappointed we had become in him. I mean, how DOES one deflect talk of the rapture in a doctor’s office waiting room? And I loved my doctor and didn’t agree that he just wanted my money.

In the meantime, I half sat/half reclined and felt nauseous. All of the pain was centralized in one location, but it affected my entire abdomen. All I really wanted to do was find a bed.

After they called me back and weighed me, I had the sudden urge to vomit. I ran to the bathroom and made it just in time. Since I hadn’t eaten anything all day, it wasn’t bad. But I still felt nauseous.

My doctor’s initial conclusion was that it was probably diverticulitis, only this time in the colon where most people have it. When I asked about the possibility of an ovarian cyst, he admitted that could also be the cause of the pain. By this time the pain was severe.

He recommended I check myself into the ER for a CT scan. He also thought my pain was bad enough that they would want to admit me into the hospital, but I had no intention of letting that happen.

hospital hallway

Diverticulitis is fairly common, but duodenal diverticulitis is not. The first time it appeared it caused a five day stay in the hospital. The head of surgery had no idea what the large mass on my duodenum was, only that it was a large mass and it was causing an infection. He didn’t want to operate because of its size and the possibility of bursting, but he knew that it wasn’t cancer. I stayed hooked up to an IV with all food and and liquids delivered intravenously for the entire five day stay. I had all kinds of GI tests run after the mass healed but no one could figure out exactly what “it” had been.

When it happened again last year, six years after the first time, the ER staff took another CT scan and compared it with the one from six years ago, which showed the lesion in exactly the same spot. A doctor young enough to be my daughter made an immediate diagnosis of duodenal diverticulitis, which is apparently rare enough to explain why no one figured it out the first time. I was sent home with a round of antibiotics and was up and running again within ten days.

So it was off to the emergency room again, just over a year since the last visit. My doctor is kind and caring, but I was embarrassed when he insisted on one of his nurses wheeling me out to the car in a wheelchair. I hate being fussed over and drawing attention to myself. I run marathons! I’m tough! I could do this on my own!

To be continued . . .

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67 comments

  1. averageinsuburbia

    I am completely distressed over your news. We might never have met face to face or heard each other’s voices but I count you as a friend just the same. I’m hate that you must travel this road…You will have plenty of good thoughts and positive energy coming to you from the blogging community!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I feel the same way about you. I have made some great friends here in the blogging community and I count you as one of them. Thank you for the good thoughts. They really are felt here by me and do a tremendous amount of good!

  2. Amanda

    I am so beyond sorry to hear this. I hope you know that you have people behind you 100 percent, even if they’ve never met you face to face. I wish you the absolute best going forward.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Thank you so much, Amanda. I do consider all my blog friends to be friends in the truest sense of the word. I’m so happy to have you all standing behind me as I fight harder than I ever have before.

  3. westerner54

    Oh, I’m so sorry that you have to go through this. I am sending all of my most positive thoughts your way, my friend. We’ll all fight with you, you can rest assured of that.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Thank you. I am so lucky to have such wonderful friends like you. Your blog has always been one of my favorites, and I know if we ever met in person we would be very close friends. We have so much in common! Your support means the world to me.

  4. monica

    I am so very sorry to hear that you are going through this. Although we’re only virtually connected, I feel almost like I know you after reading your posts for this past year. Your strength and stamina and easy writing style of your blog has not only given me hope and the desire to be in shape, but been a true pleasure for me to read. And although I’m kind of “late to the party” I am so happy to have found your blog. I am sending you all my best, my positive thoughts, and saying a prayer for healing and peace.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Thank you so much, Monica. I have been reading your blog posts but haven’t been commenting as much. I haven’t abandoned you! Your well wishes mean so much to me. I am truly blessed to have such good friends, even friends I’ve never “met” before!

  5. Tim May

    Dag gum it Angela. Damn cancer. So often it tries to disrupt life’s marathon, both mentally and physically. I am confident that with your positive spirit and attitude, you are not about to let this happen. Be strong when you can, lean on family and friends for a boost when needed.

  6. iRuniBreathe

    Oh Angela! This is not just a broken toe! I’m so sorry to hear this.
    I can also articulate what so many others have commented here: you are tough, you are Spirited, you are determined, and you are certainly much, much more than a diagnosis! Looking forward to reading more posts – thank you for sharing. I’m sending you good thoughts and much strength. xx
    Beautiful photos, as always.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Thanks, Tania. No, this is certainly not just a broken toe! I plan on fighting this with everything that I am. I think most of the marathoners I know would do the same. We know what we’re made of, we know how to pace ourselves, and we know how to make it to the finish line. Because of this new journey, life just became even more precious. Like I said, I plan on sticking around for a very long time. Thank you ever so much for your very kind words and thoughts.

  7. oopsjohn

    I admire your courage to post this chapter in your life. I know you will find that you have the support of a vast online community. That you are in such good shape and have such a good attitude will surely see you through this.

  8. Patti Ross

    I thought about hitting the “like” button, but I do not like what is going on for you. I do appreciate your willingness to share, applaud your courage as you tackle this knowing you will win, and marvel at your strength and generosity. Ya know, they do not offer buttons for those things!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      True! Sometimes we need a “dislike” button. Just being able to share my story, knowing it may save someone’s life one day, is why I decided to share. It isn’t about me, it’s about every person who may have to face cancer. There is strength in numbers and in breaking the silence of fear. Thank you for your support, Patti!

  9. joshbakerwriter

    Ugh. I agree about needing something besides a like button. How frustrating. You seem very well grounded and tough. I know you will deal with it well and win this fight. One of my wife’s best friends is dealing with breast cancer right now, and a neighbor just got leukemia. It seems the older we get the more we notice cancer around us. Best of luck. I’ll be thinking of you.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Thanks, Josh. Having a bad attitude and feeling sorry for myself really doesn’t help anyone. Anger will come and go, I’m sure, but it really doesn’t help either. It sounds harsh, but the reality is we’re all going to die one day. Some of us just find out it may be sooner rather than later–which can actually be a gift in and of itself. Maybe I won’t really live forever, like I always said, but I plan on being around for a very, very long time.

  10. MikeW

    Dear Angela, I don’t think we understand all the ways we can heal, and I pray many unexpected ways and means of healing fall upon you and yours so that your physical longevity here is relatively analogous to your chosen running distances among runs.

    On a physical level, I believe your body can prevail, and that being very, very fit will only help your body do what it has to do. I sent you something about Jennerex’s JX-594 (a biopharma agent with a smallpox virus vaccine delivery system) as having success with liver cancer and slated for trials on breast cancer). I hope it may be tested on ovarian cancer too with success. See the lower left video presentation on this home page:

    http://www.jennerex.com/

    I found out about it in the process of looking for good cause-investments in the past few years. Perhaps a parallel agent is under development with other firms for other varieties of cancer.

    You have many friends and are a special woman. The prayers and love of many are with you, and this is a force of super nature that fulfills purposes beyond my understanding. Your good purpose here matters. Many blessings and healing for you and yours. Godspeed in your healing and joy in life.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      THANK YOU, Mike. I am blessed to have a wonderfully huge community of friends and family, and that includes all my blog friends. Their love and support is what I am relying on to hold me up as I fight my way through this new journey. Just know that every single thought and prayer is felt by me in some way, and I live for those small kindnesses. This is just a new path I’m being forced to take, but it may very well turn out to be the biggest gift of my life. All we ever have is now, so ultimately not much has really changed at all.

  11. Deanna Middleton

    Thank you for sharing your story, Angela. You are a truly lovely lady as shown through the wonderful writing of your blogs that I have enjoyed so much over the last few years.

    You are one tough woman, no doubt. I know you must have so many people in your life who love you dearly and will do anything to help you during this time. Only the best to you and your family.

  12. Still a Runner

    You are a woman in tune with her body and mind. You knew before your doctor did – you knew intuitively through your spirit and intellectually through your research. You are out ahead on this and in such great shape physically, stay confident and keep in touch.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I have always liked to think I am in tune with my body, and I think this proves it. Running certainly helps in that regard, but I think yoga does as well. I am confident that I will eventually be able to regain my strength and conditioning back to my pre-cancer fitness level.

  13. Our Life In 3D

    Best wishes! I am having a trial with cancer myself right now so the title of your post caught my eye. In the end I will be OK. (check out my Miracle post) I am hoping the same outcome and optimisim for you. It is certainly eye-opening!

  14. Thomas

    Well….shit! I was wondering why you’d been so quiet lately.
    I wish I could do more than simply wish you all the best, so instead I’ll leave you with better words than my own:
    “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
    ― Albert Camus

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Best comment yet, Thomas! There has been a lot going on lately. It’s been a struggle to keep writing and commenting on my favorite blogs (though I haven’t stopped reading them). Hopefully life will settle down again after chemo and I can kick this crap to the curb! Thanks for the quote. I may have to put it on the sidebar. Hope you are doing well and enjoying being back in our fine state!

  15. pwhent

    Angela I am so sorry that you are having to face this. Although we have never met I feel as though I know you and we have become friends through our blogs and shared loved of running. I took an audible intake of breath when I read your news – like I would if I heard that news from any good friend. Please know that I am one of an army of people keeping you in my prayers and sending you tons of positive thoughts. You are a tough lady – the cancer doesn’t stand a chance.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Thanks, Peter, I feel the same about you. Just knowing I have the support of so many friends will make all the difference in the world. I am going to fight this with everything that I have. Running marathons has taught me to NEVER give up!

  16. Michelle

    I echo every one of Gretchen’s thoughts. I am distressed (here, let’s make this all about me, shall we) and upset to read this. I saw the title and put off this reading because I went straight into avoidance mode. See, I’m a runner too! I know you are a strong person, determined and intelligent and persevering. But I hate that you’ve had to deal with something scary and stressful. I don’t like it, I tell you!

    And you are the second blogger who has recently had a cancer scare/battle. But I am so glad you two are talking about it, because just like that comment that opened your eyes, you just never know who might be helped by this information. Our doctors may be well educated, caring and attentive, but they don’t shoot magic out of their fingers. So many symptoms can be mistaken for something completely different.

    Also, that picture on the cliff is making me light headed. I realize you didn’t fall off, but I can’t look at it without thinking you’re going to fall off.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Michelle, dear friend, I knew this post would be tough on you! I just hate worrying everyone. I am strong and will make my way through this.

      Doctors don’t know everything. They are not infallible and they do make mistakes. Some are more personable than others. I truly believe most of them do the best they can. It’s important, however, that people ask a lot of questions and ensure they are listened to and taken seriously.

      I keep telling you, Michelle, that you have to start saving your money and take a trip out west! You don’t have to climb to the top of Angel’s Landing, but I just know you would love it.

      • Mind Margins/Run Nature

        And for the record, I chickened out the first time we made it up to Angel’s Landing with the kids 15 or so years ago, and I almost chickened out this time as well. My son and his girlfriend convinced me I could do it–and it was awesome!

  17. Frank

    I started reading late last night, and knew that I had to start here this morning. Meanwhile, I sense you are ready to fight … on to the next post.

  18. seetinarun

    I hated clicking “like” on this post, because I hate what is happening to you, but still love the way you write. Can’t believe what you are going through. Have been reading your updates, but on my phone, so couldn’t respond. You are one strong cookie! You have my prayers and positive thoughts and I have no doubt you will win this battle.

  19. jogoflap

    I just saw this post, and am so sad over it. You are much admired, and I wish you only the very best. I hope so much for you to be well.

  20. Mz Zoomer

    I just came upon your blog and read this post. Who of us has not been touched by Cancer? It seems no one. You are so brave and good to be sharing your very personal and painful journey. I wish you only the best as you embark on this, with only good wishes being sent your way.

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  22. viveka

    Hi there, Frank sent me over …. I’m so sorry to hear about your illness, have been there myself – and so fare so good, all cancer comes in a rough and tough package = the treatment .. but not one of us react the same on our treatment … or get the same treatment, so no advice regarding … that from me.
    But life is a bitch and it’s okay to be bitchy back – it’s okay to cry when ever and where ever … because we have the same right to our tears as we have have to our laughter. I wish you good luck .. and with your fantastic attitude you will come through this – you’re not going to do it flying … there is nothing about being brave or strong .. this is not about being a hero – this is only about surviving and it’s not that there is many options.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Thank you so much for your kind comments, and sorry you had to go through this yourself. It has been a roller coaster ride, but I’ve been very accepting of each day as it presents itself. I accept it all. It doesn’t mean that I like it, or pretend that I’m happy when I’m not. I can cry, and get mad, and bitch with the best of them! Being a “hero” is the furthest thing from my mind. Right now I’m just happy to be alive.

      • viveka

        So well said …. one thing is for sure that our body and soul will never be the same as it was before .. for the better more than for the worst.
        Yes, it’s not all of us that gets a new dairy with loads of empty pages to fill … it’s great to be alive.

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