It was July 1998.
I was 23 years old.
I had been having pain and discomfort in my abdomen for months, but the doctors in upstate New York kept telling me I probably had a cyst and that “it would go away” and “not to worry about it”.
When I moved back to Long Island, I found a new doctor and during his first examination of my belly, he ordered for me to have a biopsy of the mass in my abdomen.
I told him “everyone said it’s just a cyst”.
He looked at me and said, “that’s no cyst. It’s way too hard to be a cyst. It’s a tumor”.
Yeah, he was blatant like that.
But he explained that it was likely to be benign and should be removed anyway just to relieve my discomfort, after which the mass would be biopsied, just to be sure. Ok, no problem.
So we scheduled the surgery and I thought nothing of it. I mean, I was just 23 years-old. I’d had cysts before, a few of which had ruptured causing terrible pain. So this was no biggie.
That was until a few days after the procedure when the doctor called me into his office for the test results. The discussion went something like this:
Dr.: “Irene, you have cancer.”
Me: “Uh, what?”
Dr.: “You have Stage 1 ovarian cancer, although I think we got it all.”
Me: “I’m sorry. I thought you just said I have cancer.”
Dr.: “Yes. I’m sorry. I know that is scary but you were very lucky. It was discovered very early and I think by removing the tumor, we most likely got all of it since I did not see and more masses anywhere.”
I just blinked at him, still not understanding what he was saying to me.
The doctor stood directly in front of me, grabbed my shoulders and said, “Irene. You have cancer. But it’s okay. It’s not a death sentence. You will be okay if you do exactly what I tell you to do.”
It took him a few more times before I could finally comprehend what he told me.
I was breathing again.
To say I was terrified was an understatement.
I heard cancer and immediately thought of all the things I never got to do. I thought my life was over and all I could imagine were all the things I missed in life: I’d never travel, get married, or finish college. I was going to die and I had barely started living yet.
The idea of going through chemotherapy after having had surgery and dealing with it all on my own was more than I could handle.
I became a bitchy, nasty mess. I told no one of my diagnosis. I just wallowed in my own misery. I became a terrible person.
A few months later, I was back to my old self.
I was lucky.
It wasn’t until I changed doctors until I finally found someone who would take my complaints seriously enough to test me. Sometimes, that’s what we have to do.
Because I was so vigilant, I was able to be diagnosed, treated, and healed with no additional signs of cancer 13 years later.
I am relatively healthy, strong, and living a very full life.
Do not be afraid to challenge your doctors.
Do not accept an answer that doesn’t make sense. Follow your instincts and listen to your gut.
If something is wrong, you are probably right. You know your body better than anyone else.
And sometimes you have to fight for it.
Irene is a favorite of mine and I tremendously appreciate her sharing her experience here. She blogs at House of Robertson.