Mary Sue David knows what it’s like to hear the words “you have cancer.” She had once been diagnosed with breast cancer and then went through treatment for that cancer.
Having already gone on one journey with cancer, Mary Sue did not expect to receive another cancer diagnosis. And why should she? She was feeling fine and didn’t notice any symptoms.
Even though she seemed ok, her oncologist ordered a blood test. And it was this test that showed that she did, in fact, have stage IV ovarian cancer. “I was asymptomatic,” she says, noting that she really didn’t feel like she had anything.
Going Through Cancer Treatment
Shortly after her diagnosis, Mary Sue had surgery to have her ovaries and uterus removed. After a few weeks of recovery, she then began chemotherapy treatment, which initially involved two different cancer drugs. While the drugs initially worked well for her, she soon became sick.
“I was pretty sick,” she says. “It was doable, and I knew that I was going to come out of it, but it was fairly unpleasant,” she recalls. At that point, her treatment was altered to using only one of the drugs, Carboplatin, for her chemotherapy treatment. “And that’s when things started to improve and I felt much better.”
Subsequent scans showed that the tumors were shrinking. “In hindsight, everybody kind of feels that the chemo wasn’t entirely responsible for making me ill,” she says. “It may have been more that I was pretty sick. I had a lot of cancer and there was a lot of work to do.”
She started her chemotherapy regimen once a month, then every three weeks and then once a week. The tumor continued to shrink and she was feeling good, with minimal side effects. “I was up and about feeling ok,” she says. “But you can only take Carboplatin for so long, because a reaction can occur.”
At this point her treatment was switched to Doxil and she has gone through three treatments with it so far and seems to be feeling fine. “I think the thing about chemo is balance,” says Mary Sue. “You have to find a balance between what your body will tolerate, based on your age and weight that will balance out killing some of the bad guys and not killing you.”
While Doxil can sometimes cause hair loss and neuropathy, Mary Sue has not experienced either. Mary Sue did note that when she was having side effects, when she first started chemotherapy and was on two different drugs, her side effects would usually take place about 2-3 days following her chemo. “I would be extremely tired and somewhat nauseated, but no matter what happened, there was always something that they could do, even when I was pretty sick from chemo.” (They always seem to have an answer for whatever happens)
When Mary Sue goes to her chemotherapy appointments she often brings some of her family members, like her husband and her daughter-in-law. “We have little mini-parties and chats.”
“When I was having side effects, they would happen about three days after the chemo,” she says.
When Mary Sue had her first journey with cancer, going through breast cancer, she recalls how her oncology team helped put her mind at ease. “When I first started, Dr. said if you want to call me, call me. And even if you think you need to call me, call me,” Mary Sue recalls. “So I never felt like I was hung out there worrying about symptoms, or wondering about this or that. I was only one phone call away from getting the right answers. And that was very comforting.”
“Chemo’s got a bad rap, it’s got a bad connotation,” she says. “It’s not fun, and nobody wants to do it, or take it, but it doesn’t have to be a show stopper. You can have a good life and still be taking chemo,” she adds with a chuckle.
And Mary Sue has been able to show this to one of her friends, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer and dreaded the idea of going through “chemo”. “She was nearly paralyzed by the word and I think I was able to show her, just through my experience, that it doesn’t have to take you down. It can be just a thing that you do every day, like people who have diabetes, who also have to take a drug every day,” she explains. “But it keeps their diabetes under control and they live a happy life.”
Handling Fear and Keeping Positive
Having gone through cancer once before has helped prepare Mary Sue for her current journey with cancer, as well as given her a better appreciation of living her life. In regards to receiving a cancer diagnosis and controlling the fear that can come with that. “I have learned, thankfully, through two bouts of breast cancer and one of ovarian cancer that fear isn’t helpful,” she says.
“I can look back and say, look at all that stuff you worried about and feared,” Mary Sue says, regarding the fears that have crept up in her mind during her journeys with cancer. “All those scenarios you set up in your head, not one of one came true. Your imagination is your worst enemy,” she adds with a chuckle.
Mary Sue says she found that staying mindful of the positive helped her combat her fears. “I just started training myself to imagine good things, imagine bad cancer cells being destroyed and flowing out of my body.” Mary Sue is quick to point out that it’s her positive attitude that’s kept her through it all. “It’s essential. I think your mind and body work together and if your mind helps your body, you can heal.”
“Nothing that I have feared along the lines of these episodes with cancer has been as bad as I have imagined it to be.” she says, adding that age can also provide some perspective. “I’m seventy-three years old, so I have the benefit of a lot of hindsight now.”
Living one day at time and enjoying her life, Mary Sue’s positiveness keeps her strong, but she also doesn’t hide from reality. “I know that I have a disease and I know that I have something to cope with,” she says. “But I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to dwell on it, so I guess I distract myself with good things. And it works.”
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