My name is Donna Pepin and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006. And the type of disease I was diagnosed with then was borderline serous tumors, it's a subtype of ovarian cancer. I was treated surgically and with chemotherapy for about a year and then lived a very healthy life or so I thought I was perfectly healthy until 2016, where I was diagnosed with a recurrence of my disease.
What would I tell someone that's just been diagnosed? There are so many things, you know, to say, but I would say number one is - you are about to learn about yourself in ways that you never have before. You will, I promise you, learn more about your own strength and resilience, you are stronger than you think you are. You can and you will get through this. You must have faith.
You must believe in yourself. You must believe in the strength of your own body, in your body's ability to heal. You must have faith in your doctors.
You have to have trust. You have to have a mind set that will enable you to move forward every day. And there's gonna be a lot of tough days potentially and maybe there won't be and maybe you're you're going to do a lot better than you think you will. But there will always be hope. Absolutely. I just wasn't the kind of person that a support group appealed to.
I had zero interest in sitting around with other ovarian cancer patients or being surrounded by other people that were ill. And I think I somehow had an instinct, almost to protect myself from that because there's a lot of reality in that as well. I also was not a person who would go on-line and start looking up everything.
I really tried to focus on information that was pertinent to myself and also information that was positive, as much as possible. So support group no, but give me a survivor to talk to, let me talk to someone who can give me information or prepare me in some way, or offer me some hope or guidance in terms of what may lay before me and that's what I would have found very helpful, at least that's what I had in my head, because there's that sort of bubble that you live in when you have cancer, that you feel that there's a relationship and an immediate understanding that you have with another cancer patient that you will not have with anyone else in your life regardless of how intimate your relationship is. After two rounds of chemotherapy, so at this point I'm about five months into it, the doctors are starting to realize that apparently my disease is not sensitive, obviously, chemo-resistant I think they call it, and so I was given at that point a 10 - 15 % chance of survival, that was hard to see it written on documents for insurance purposes and that sort of thing, and that was, at that point I started to lose hope a little bit, really for the first time because up until that point I was just soldiering on and arming myself and you know, gathering my own strength and people around me and I had all of this support but that was tough. And I then was given an opportunity and qualified for a clinical trial and I was like, "oh, you know, maybe this is it, this this will be the thing" you know, and after, I think it was only two rounds of chemotherapy in a clinical trial, they realized that that also was doing nothing so you know that was abandoned and that was tough because at that point I felt as if I'd run out of options. When I had surgery a few months later as it turned out it was a best case outcome, my disease was well contained and they were quite confident that they were able to remove everything so I'd gone from you know a worse case scenario to, "you're going to be just fine". And I think that information for me was probably the hardest thing for me to accept after having gone through that entire year and being on that roller coaster of hope and nothing working and we'll try this and that didn't work and will try that and that didn't work - well what what are we doing next? But then when I did actually have a positive outcome it took me months and a few psychiatric appointments to actually get my brain wrapped around it and to accept that. And, when you have cancer and you go through treatment there are a lot of losses involved so there's really a lot of grieving that has to be done. And everyone's experience is individual, but you've had a loss of of your health.
You've had a loss maybe of body parts. Maybe you've lost faith in yourself. I know for me, I know that I actually lost some trust in my body. I lost, I didn't, I lost, it's like I forgot how strong I was, in a way, physically, you know, these are all things that you don't realize ... Maybe consciously, but, there's this innate sense of almost, "who am I now?" And, so cancer changes your life forever, there's no doubt about that. As the years went by and I put more and more distance and time between myself and ovarian cancer, as time went on I really began to believe that I would, you know, live the rest my life like a normal healthy person without cancer, you know just like everyone else.
And so I went for pretty much the next five years of feeling and, it appeared on all levels, in terms of just yearly, physical - you know your physicals and things, that I was actually in pretty perfect health. And then, suddenly, I was just randomly, out of no where, in June of 2016, had this sudden onset of debilitating pain. Just from nowhere. And, long story short, a week later I was told, after I took myself to an emergency room, that I had a recurring metastatic ovarian cancer and I was absolutely shocked. I couldn't believe it. Shocked.
But, if I think about, you know, how I reacted when I was given my first diagnosis. And then ten years later. Who that girl was and who this girl was today, you know, once I got over my initial shock and I had to cry and I had to freak out a little and once I got over that, then it was like, "okay well we've done this before we'll do it again." And a part of me knew what to expect or at least I thought that I knew what to expect. So I ..
Maybe I was a veteran at that point. I think that the biggest problem that ovarian cancer has is a lack of awareness. Because, it's such a tragically aggressive disease typically. There just aren't the advocates out there, there aren't a lot of survivors. There aren't people out there that are talking about it, quite frankly, because a lot of women don't survive it.
Ovarian Cancer Canada is important because they are looking out for Canadian women, they're the only national organization that is advocating on behalf of Canadian women who have this disease. And that's another reason I think, for me, that I feel almost like, I'm here, so I have a responsibility. You know, women, we need to look after ourselves and each other. Because if we don't look after one another, you know we're very powerful, what we can accomplish.
When we come together we are a force to be reckoned with. And, you know Canadian women, we need to stand up and demand better from our government. Something has to be done to change the outcomes of this disease. I really believe that. And Ovarian Cancer Canada is really leading the fight. I completely accept that now I need to find a way to live with my disease, at least at this particular point in time.
So I have embarked on a therapy or a medication that you know initially when you begin taking it you really need to be having this medication for three to four months before a diagnostic will be performed, before they'll even know if it'll have any effect whatsoever. So that was hard, again, getting up to that three or four month period but day to day I don't focus on that and day to day I don't focus on that I'm living with ovarian cancer. Day to day I just focus on, you know, living my best possible life. And fortunately for me, the first three or four months into taking this new medication, I did have a minor response where my tumors actually shrunk by about 25% so it was like, wow, that was pretty amazing, but in those moments leading up to seeing those test results I was absolutely petrified, but it was really for about, you know the first ... The day before I was feeling like a lot of anxiety but I sort of don't let myself go there because there's really no point, you're not helping yourself, you have no control, you just have to wait for the information and you have to hope for the best and just try to focus on living your life and living, and what you're going to be doing day to day, because if you get drawn into it and emeshed in that thinking you start you know, you go down that path of almost sabotaging yourself and living in a state of fear and it really really makes it harder. So now I would say that I am working really hard everyday on acceptance and that's really key for me. And on living my best possible life.
On living. I think that's very important.
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