It Takes a Village to Survive Ovarian Cancer 

My family, my faith, and my partnership with my medical team give me hope for the future.

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Cancer takes away control over your life. Being in partnership with my medical team gave me back some of that control.

—Dee Sparacio

My odyssey with ovarian cancer started in May 2005, when I saw my gynecologist for an annual exam and mentioned an odd twinge I had been experiencing on my left side. A subsequent pelvic ultrasound followed by an MRI showed that my ovaries were enlarged, and my doctor warned me that the problem could be serious. She made an appointment for me with a gynecologic oncologist. Because I was 49, the oncologist recommended a hysterectomy and removal of my ovaries.

Reassuring Words

When I woke up in the recovery room after the surgery, the oncologist said, “Sorry, Dee, you have stage IIIB ovarian cancer, but I will do everything in my power to make you well.” Although the fact that I had metastatic ovarian cancer was frightening, hearing my doctor—and later the rest of my medical team—assure me that everything possible would be done to make me well again, made me feel like we were a team and we were going to fight this cancer together.

I was offered a phase I clinical trial that included intravenous selenium, plus carboplatin and paclitaxel. My husband and I are both scientists, and we did our homework on the treatment regimen being recommended. We thought it offered me the best chance for a successful outcome, although I had real concerns about whether I would complete the nine cycles of therapy.

But by April 2006, I was disease-free and able to resume my teaching career, until the cancer recurred 4 years ago. This time, I had lesions on my spleen and liver. Following surgery to remove my spleen and resection my liver, I was again prescribed the combination chemotherapy regimen of carboplatin and paclitaxel, and I’m once again in remission.

Finding Hope through Research

Although my treatment and subsequent side effects—severe neuropathy in my toes and “chemobrain”—have made it difficult for me to resume my teaching career, my experience with cancer has given me a new vocation: cancer advocate. I launched a blog to help other women with ovarian cancer and, last June, I attended ASCO’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, made possible with a grant I received from the Society’s Conquer Cancer Foundation, to learn about current research in the disease.

I know the key to surviving this uncommon and often fatal cancer is earlier detection and more effective treatments, and the only way that will be possible is through research. Watching presentations of the latest clinical trials on potential new therapies and studies being done on survivorship issues, including coping with long-term treatment side effects, and actually being able to talk with the scientists afterward, gave me a greater appreciation of their efforts and hope for the future.

I spread that feeling of hope through my blog and in lectures I give to other ovarian cancer survivors. I know that the chances I could have another recurrence are high, but knowing that the disease is getting more research attention is comforting to me.

A Team Effort

I’m lucky. I have a wonderful family and support system, as well as a strong faith, all of which have helped me get through the past 7 years and help me face the future. Having a supportive medical team, including my oncologists, who I could communicate with and who made me feel like we were all in this fight together, gave me confidence I would survive. They presented information and treatment plans in a way I could understand, and there was always someone available to answer my questions, so I never felt alone.

Cancer takes away control over your life. Being in partnership with my medical team gave me back some of that control. ■

Dee Sparacio lives in Hightstown, New Jersey.

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