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Abbreviations & Acronyms
dx diagnose, diagnosis
FSH follicle-stimulating hormone
IBS irritable bowel syndrome
IVP intravenous pyelogram — study to look at the kidneys and ureters
NED no evidence of disease
s/s signs & symptoms
SLS second-look surgery
TAH / BSO total abdominal hysterectomy / bilateral salpingectomy and oophorectomy — removal of, respectively: uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries
tx treat, treatment
US ultrasound
WAR whole abdominal radiation
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Submitted on 08/28/2003
Photo of Marlene      When my wife Marlene was first diagnosed with OC(3c),we were filled with the same chilling fear many of you might be feeling now upon learning the dreaded news of your unexpected encounter with the Big "C".

     But almost four months into her chemotherapy treatments, we are filled with great optimism and she has regained an incredible zest for life. Life 'almost' seems normal now as hope has displaced the negative thoughts that dominated at the outset.

     We've come to discover the human mind is a marvellous organ. If you instruct it to assume a positive attitude in the face of daunting threats, you will not be disappointed in the many ways it channels you towards a fulfilling life despite the temporary limitations brought on by an unwelcome visitor within.

     Ever since she decided to stare fear in the face after learning of her cancer, Marlene has truly blossomed…taking her life down new and challenging paths of self-fulfilment.

     She has steadfastly refused to allow her cancer to stifle her will or reason to live. Although there are constraints brought on by her chemotherapy, she has nevertheless forged ahead with painting lessons, reading, garden visits, museum visits and a host of other activities. You can visit her own gardens at http://mywebpage.netscape.com/paddleprattle/gardens.html.

And through it all she deals with her "other" fears she has encountered in life; this week she conquered her fear of heights by being hoisted 200 feet into the air in a telescoping crane that was just fabricated by her former employer. She found the experience exhilarating but was happiest most because she had conquered another fear.

     Marlene is halfway through her chemo treatments now and the "numbers" are very encouraging as she heads into the second half and I am convinced beyond doubt that her positive attitude has kept the more ominous aspects of her cancer at bay. I know this positive thinking is a difficult aspect of recovery to convey to those newly diagnosed, the rewards are real…and they are many. So knock on the door of your inner strength and fight on fearlessly.

     My wife and I are both avid canoeists, and this is something I wrote to fellow canoeists at the time of learning of her cancer:

     Have you ever wondered what is would be like to find yourself on an uncharted river, heading downstream with no maps and not the slightest idea of what lies ahead around the next bend?

     My wife Marlene and I just made it back from such an excursion and I thought it might be of benefit to some of you to read this slightly abstract trip-log. While we were just putting our canoe into a calm water section, an experienced guide who joined us on this expedition had already crossed over to the other shore and scouted her way down the river to size up the situation.

     We were already inching our way downstream when we caught sight of her sending us signals of the dangers that lay ahead of us. She had already seen what was lurking downstream and was trying her best to communicate the severity of the situation to us.

     But we were already into the faster moving water and could barely hear her above the roar of the upcoming rapids just around the next bend. Her paddle signals were unfamiliar to us and we failed to believe what she was trying to say...that we were headed straight into some very turbulent waters.

     Within minutes, we started to grasp the full meaning of what she meant. But there was no turning back to the safety of calm water now....we were at the crest of the rapids and we had to concentrate on lining up our canoe into the safest possible line to get through this together.

     What initially seemed like a class II rapid suddenly mushroomed into a terrifying and treacherous class V funnel of fury with wall to wall frothing foam cascading over protruding boulders. Our eyes locked together for a few seconds and we immediately felt a fear rising in us as our hearts pounded faster.

     Marlene knew what was coming now and braced herself as best she could to keep the canoe from swamping in what seemed like an endless series of rough-edged boulders as we skirted by huge suction holes in the raging water.

     Most great whitewater rivers have at least one section appropriately named the Gates Of Hell or Meat Grinder which usually require portaging. Well this one was named Scalpel Run and it certainly filled us with equal fear...but there was no possibility of finding a safe portage route now.

     Marlene bravely guided us through this hellish section only to find ourselves heading straight into a fallen sweeper tree that lay across the only channel open to us. There was no time to avoid it. She lay back low in the canoe but the sharp branch stubs ripped into her lower abdomen and gouged deep inside of her and then withdrew as the force of the river pushed her under the sweeper and down the last remaining haystack waves.

     At last we spotted an eddy that would hopefully allow us to momentarily pull out of this frightening descent. With the fire of a fighter in her eyes, Marlene used all her remaining strength to thrust her paddle deep into the edge of the eddy and pull us around into safety behind a huge rock. With nerves still numbed by the horror, we made eye contact again and found comfort in knowing we were still in this together...ready to fight our way down the rest of these rapids.

     We are still in those rapids right now as I write these words. If you haven't already guessed, I have presented this trip log in a metaphorical sense to depict a real-life situation we are living at the moment.

     You can read back now and make the appropriate substitutions; the new undiscovered river was the hospital emergency ward, the guide was the doctor/surgeon, the scouting was a CT scan, heading to the crest of the rapids was learning Marlene had two advanced malignant ovarian cancer tumors and a host of smaller cancerous nodules within the abdominal cavity, the Scalpel Run was a complete hysterectomy and the safe eddy is her temporary resting spot before starting intensive experimental chemotherapy sessions next week and lasting six months.

     You might be wondering what prompted me to write this trip report. I'm not completely sure myself but I think I can narrow it down to three principal reasons; The first is a purely selfish and self-serving use of this forum as a medium of self-therapy in expressing my thoughts openly rather than claming up in an emotional shell of silent sadness.

     This is not an appeal for pity…we've already been through the weep and anger stages and are now focusing only on things positive. The second reason is a personal request to any of you who know a "Survivor" within your family or circle of friends who has made it through to the remission stage after chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Marlene would like to communicate (via e-mail) with those who have been through the battle zone to better prepare her for the journey that lies ahead and also to boost her hopes of coming out a winner. The third reason for writing this story, and the most important in my view, is to urge those of you who have loved ones (mostly close to middle age) to "insist" on those thorough check-ups. If they try to dodge the issue, badger or hound them endlessly and be an annoying nag if you must but make sure they go to see their doctor and preferably a specialist if in doubt whatsoever about lurking symptoms of ovarian cancer.

     Things can change rapidly. Marlene had a clean bill of health only six months ago. She is a healthy person heavily involved in tennis, badminton, biking…and of course, canoeing. I know this may seem irrelevant to many of you. You may feel you are immune to such life situations, convinced in your mind that these rare "disturbances" happen only to others and not to those close to you.

     That was my exact frame of mind the weekend before this trip to the hospital. Marlene wasn't feeling perky enough to join a group of friends on a day-trip canoe outing on the Jacques Cartier River but she did offer to shuttle everyone to the put-in before going home to rest. Just some normal intestinal bloating accompanied with "that time of month" symptoms, we thought. How wrong we were.

     We'll soon be resuming our journey down our newly-named River of Hope, we know better now what to expect in the way of pitfalls along the way but Marlene has honed her paddling skills and I know she will make it through to the take-out in six months time . Once there, we will take time off to savour the tranquil calm of Remission Park and travel less turbulent waters.

Derek Hill

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