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By Coretta Collins
What if I get it too? It is a recurring and nagging thought. I tend not to say it aloud, but it lingers in the back of my mind. Then I scold myself for thinking like this. What kind of thought is that to have when I spend my days encouraging and uplifting patients who are on their cancer journey? What kind of thing is that to say as a Jesus-loving Christian woman?
Yet, it is true. Mom’s cancer diagnosis blindsided us all. It knocked the wind out of me. When we found out the type, we were even more devastated and dismayed. Learning that it was metastatic (had spread from its original site to other parts of the body) and Stage IV was the total knockout. It was heartbreaking and confounding.
As a hematology (blood disease) and oncology (cancer) nurse practitioner, I understand that cancer does not care who it attacks. It is a villainous mutant maniac that can happen to anybody. Nevertheless, I still wonder why and how this happened to mom because as far as risk factors and statistics go, mom did not meet many of them. Her cancer diagnosis changed our lives forever.
At the time of her diagnosis, I did not know anyone who had ever had this type of cancer. Ovarian cancer does not run in our family, at least it didn’t. Mom was the first to be diagnosed. Ovarian cancer usually occurs in older women. Half of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are age 63 and older. Mom was 47. The majority of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are White. Mom was Black. Infertility is a risk factor for ovarian cancer. Mom had three children. Now there is the lingering question about talcum powder being the culprit. Mom was an avid Johnson & Johnson and Shower to Shower powder user, so I am inclined to believe that it played a role.
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any of the gynecological cancers.
As far as statistics go, mom, unfortunately, falls in this category. She was only 48 years old when she died. To me, she had so much more life to live. She had sons to marry off, grandchildren to spoil, trips to take with my dad, kindergartners to nurture, church members to shepherd and so many family and friends to continue to love. Yet, she did not get the chance.
So, yes, I wonder, what if I get it too? What if it creeps in on me as some notion of heartburn or gas? If I die at 48, my sons will only be 18 and 16. My baby girl would only be 12. I will not have yet traveled to every tropical destination in the world with my husband. I may not have attained all my career and personal goals. Will I live to see my 49th birthday? Each year that I get closer to 48, I am thankful yet concerned.
I once confided in my husband that if I live to see my 49th birthday that I wanted it treated as the milestone. I do not want to wait until 50. I want the big shindig for 49. I want the big trip for 49. I want the big gift for 49.
I will have joy and relief that I made it to an age that my mom never got to see. I also hope that I do not have an ovarian cancer diagnosis or any other cancer diagnosis for that matter. I want to see my children grow up. I want to see my future grandchildren. I want to do so many things and to go to so many places. I don’t want to die while feeling like I still have so much living to do. But I cannot dwell on these things. I cannot miss out on the present wondering about the future.
So, I have decided that I will live as if I am not going to die. I am determined to put my faith in front of my fear. I will practice what I preach by maintaining a positive attitude and outlook. I will not look at 48 as a potential end but as a new beginning. I will hold on to my ovaries as God sees fit and pray that they don’t fail me. I will not let thoughts of my ovaries consume me. I refuse to use powder, talcum or otherwise. I am paying close attention to my body. I am seeing my gynecologist at least once a year. I am proactive in my health. I will continue the good work that I have started through service, writing, and advocacy. I am doing what I can do in hopes of the best outcome. After all, that is all that I am responsible for, right?
Could what happened to mom have been a fluke? Our family has not seen ovarian cancer again since her diagnosis. Could it be waiting to overtake me? Not if I can help it. Despite all this, I know that cancers can still creep in, but I sure hope that it does not. I will look forward to celebrating each birthday, praying that it is not my last. But when number 49 comes, look out because you all will know about it!
Coretta Collins is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who serves people with cancer and blood diseases at Hematology & Oncology Associates of Alabama. Additionally, she is a wife, mother of three, writer, and has a blog, Confessions of a Nurse Practitioner, where she shares insight, promotes health, and provides education. Find her online at ccthenp.com.