One woman's story will create ripples of awareness, education and truth in the fight against ovarian cancer.
It was a pain that felt a bit different this time.
Lisa Fredricks had suffered from kidney stones in the past and figured it was another bout of that on the horizon. While admitted for what was a kidney stone and infection, doctors found something concerning near her ovary. After a vaginal ultrasound and a trip to the gynecologist, the news was devastating: cancer in both ovaries.
"I'll never forget that call," said Lisa.
"They were telling me I had ovarian cancer and I replied, 'no, I don't!' I started separating myself from the situation as I hung up. I was home, alone and I emotionally fell apart."
With an unknown future, Lisa was given three weeks to recover from an Oophorectomy and salpingectomy along with debulking surgery. She started chemotherapy and what she describes as a series of reactions to medications and the sobering thought of putting poison in her body to try and kill the disease.
"I'm a fairly level-headed person but I had a lot of unreal thoughts go through my mind. What if I can't take it?"
Looking back, it was simply survival mode—days that were physically and emotionally the hardest. There was crippling anxiety days before the seven- to nine-hour treatments. There were rashes and hives and severe exhaustion; it was a chore to even think about getting out of bed to use the bathroom.
"I remember the first day my hair came out," said Lisa. "I was completely overwhelmed by that. I tried to roll with the punches but some of those punches were really hard."
In the chaos of treatment and sickness came simple mercies. Lisa became friends with who she describes as unbelievably kind nurses that would, "call me at home and check to see how I was doing. It was next-level care I had no idea existed in the medical field—that nurses would contact you on their own time to see how you were reacting to medication."
It's those feelings of deep respect and care that brought a much-needed peace and set Lisa on a path to immersing herself in the ovarian cancer community. From support at Gilda's Club Grand Rapids to online Facebook groups, a collection of women and families shared their journeys.
"I wasn't prepared for seeing that amount of death on a regular basis. I'd see women in treatment then see their funeral notice," said Lisa.
"Ovarian cancer touches every walk of life and every age. This is not a disease for 60- or 70-year-old women. This disease knows no bounds."
The startling example is a 9-year-old girl.
"When you get an education in cancer, you get an education you weren't prepared for," said Lisa as she details the story of Meagan, a young girl she met who was diagnosed as a youth. Meagan's single-parent father had looked to the future at his daughter's very real prospect of infertility and had the foresight to leave an ovary and check on its viability. The good news: Megan is now expecting a baby, via surrogate.
With breast cancer at the top of women's cancer conversations, Lisa hopes ovarian cancer receives attention through her testimony.
"There's no diagnostic test. The way someone was treated 40 years ago, that is the way I was treated last year," said Lisa, who toured the Van Andel Institute with her ovarian cancer group learning that 22,240 women are diagnosed every year—with 14,070 losing their battle each year. It made her an instant advocate.
"I have certain things in my control. I can create awareness to help raise money. I have the picture from Crowns of Courage to educate women about symptoms. I have a card I hand out at the ovarian cancer awareness event, Shake Your Teal Feathers. I'm a self-admitted badass when it comes to stuff like this. There's probably nothing that can be done in my lifetime but maybe I can help somebody down the road ..."
Walk, run or bike in Grand Rapids on September 23 at the sixth annual ovarian cancer awareness event Shake Your Teal Feathers. For more information, visit Shake Your Teal Feathers.
During the writing of this story, Lisa Fredricks received news of another mass in her lower pelvic area and is scheduled for surgery. This recurrence comes just one year and a few days since her last chemo treatment.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Unfortunately, symptoms are everyday issues women deal with—including bloating, diarrhea, constipation, a tender abdomen, urinary tract problems, lower back pain, feeling full sooner than normal when eating, painful intercourse, menstrual irregularities, heartburn and feeling tired.
Written by Missy Black, a footwear fanatic, a style child, and a contributing writer for West Michigan Woman.
Crowns of courage photo courtesy of Dave Burgess. Photo in front of Rosa's Closet courtesy of Nicole Rauch.