By Guest Blogger Ashley Stabolitis
“Ovarian Cancer”…I hate those two words.
I first heard them when my mom was diagnosed on Labor Day weekend of August of 2008. Stage 4 the doctor told us. What?!? How does cancer progress to Stage 4 without her knowing?
Well this is how…Ovarian Cancer masks itself, it hides, it is sneaky. My mom had always had stomach issues…irritable bowel syndrome was the diagnosis. That diagnosis seems to be the “go to” for anyone with stomach issues. I have had irritable bowel since I was in primary school. But how did she not notice the changes in her body? She did notice them, but all of us, even the doctors chalked them up to stress, divorce, reactions to pain meds from a broken arm, the list goes on and on. There were just too many factors going on at the same time and before we knew it, mom was being diagnosed in the Emergency Room in the middle of the night with no family there at all to support her. I was livid. How do you tell someone that they have cancer without a family member there to comfort them?
That was just the beginning of a year long battle with ovarian cancer. A battle that ultimately the cancer won, but only in the fact that mom was never able to rid her body of the disease. I remember one of the sweet Palliative Care Nurses comforting my mom and praising her for how hard she had fought. She reminded her and me that my mom had ultimately finished the race. There is a large part of me that is still angry, empty, and sad I miss having my mom here to see my kids grow up and share in not only the special events, but the small every day moments as well.
For almost one year my courageous mom fought the hard fight. We listened to her oncologist and followed all of the orders. Thank goodness we own a restaurant, since the only ‘cooking’ I do is with a microwave! My husband, George and I kept my mom’s refrigerator stocked with beets, spinach, potatoes, and her favorite applesauce; anything her stomach would tolerate and she desired, well we kept it coming. Her biggest vice was Diet Coke. I hate diet sodas and have always been weary of the artificial sweeteners in them. I swear I think it contributed to her cancer…who knows? I certainly couldn’t convince her to give it up. I needed to be her cheerleader not harp about Diet Coke. She had so many side effects from the chemo. The constipation was a huge battle; all those darn pain meds. Then she developed neuropathy and was so uncomfortable all the time.
Sadly, mom’s ovarian cancer did not respond well to chemotherapy and her poor body just couldn’t take anymore. We headed to the beach at the end of July for a family vacation with her grandkids. I was so surprised at the strength she found to get up each day. Each day she would greet my daughter with, “Good morning, butterfly”. I would distribute her meds and then ‘cook’ frozen Pillsbury butter-lovin biscuits, her favorite. I tried hard to cook them just right as she liked them gooey. My kids still like their biscuits gooey and let me tell you, if I overcook them all I hear is, “these are NOT gooey like Mimi’s!”
As soon as we got back from the beach, things went down hill. She entered the hospital on Friday, July 31st and they immediately put her on the Palliative Care floor. I had no clue what that meant. You see, she had been in and out of the hospital many times. I thought or rather hoped this would be the same situation. Well, let’s just say what happened in the next 72 hours was the worst experience of my life My mom never left the hospital and she passed away on Monday afternoon, August 3rd, 2009. The ovarian cancer won.
But it didn’t really. Ovarian cancer is just one of many cancers that will affect or even take those that we love. We cannot let cancer or the fear of cancer define how we live.
I immediately had genetic testing done to make sure I did not carry the cancer gene. I tested negative for all known markers. Will I get cancer one day? Probably, but at least I can live in peace knowing it is not genetic. Why did my mom have it and why did she have to die at a mere 62 years young? I don’t have the answer to that and well, that is when I have to rely on my faith. Without believing that God had a reason for taking her so soon, there is no way I could keep on living. I have to believe that he needed her in heaven more than I needed her here and I also believe our week at the beach was a gift from him. In fact, in that whole last year of her life I got to know my mom better than ever. I grew to understand her and her life more. I gained a greater respect for her and discovered just how strong she was. I am amazed that we had that one last week together and so very thankful for the memories that we made.
So here on earth, I try to live a life that she would be proud of. I listen to my body and I don’t hesitate to seek medical advice, if I feel something is wrong. We all have to be advocates for ourselves when it comes to our health. After experiencing the benefit of the Palliative Care Services and attending grief counseling at Hospice, I became very passionate about this organization. For the past 3 years, we have formed a team, Mimi’s Purple Butterflies, in memory of my mom, for the Hospice Hope Run. We just participated in our 3rd race at the 18th annual Hospice Hope Run in April. Our team won an award for the largest family team with over 140 team members and an award for the top fundraising team. In just three years, we have raised over $16,000 to help Hospice continue their mission. Our family is trying to use our grief in a positive way to help others. Putting together this team is very emotional for our family. We laugh, we cry, but most importantly we remember. We remember my mom and we celebrate her life. We don’t speak of ovarian cancer often. I will not let that define the life my mom led. She was an amazing woman and I will do all I can to keep her memory alive and remember her for the beautiful, loving mom and grandmother that she was.
Ashley and I met each other through an unfortunate mutual bond – my mother passed away from Ovarian Cancer as well. Ironically, she was just a year older than Ashley’s mom (63). Sadly, we have met many others, right here in our community, who share the same story and who have loved ones who died too soon. The fight against cancer is not over, but our hope and prayer is that we can spread awareness to bring us one step closer to a cure. Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. Our wish is that each of you will share this blog, visit the website,ovariancancerday.org, and use social media to spread the word about risks, prevention, symptoms, treatment, and diagnosis. Each person made aware is one step closer to finding a cure. Ashley, thank you for sharing your story with us today. No doubt your mom is smiling from above and is more than proud of you! ~Rachel Hoeing