Graceful Hope was started by the Rocha family. Grace Rocha and her daughter Erika were both diagnosed with ovarian cancer and treated at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, were I was treated. Sadly Grace passed away in 2008 and Erika, initially diagnosed at the age of 16, passed away in 2011.
I first met the Rocha family in 2012 when they asked me to share my survivor story at the 2nd Benefit. This past weekend I was once again honored to speak at the 5th Annual Graceful Hope Benefit for Ovarian Cancer Research. This year the funds raised were being presented to Rutgers Cancer Institute of NJ.
Here are portions of my speech - The Threads of My Life.
|Speaking at the Graceful Hope 5th Annual Benefit|
Some survivors say Cancer is a Gift others say it most definitely is not. For me I think of Cancer as a thread in the fabric of my life and over the past 12 years many new threads have been added.
In the late spring of 2005 I went to the ER for intense pain on the left side of my abdomen. That led to a series of tests and a referral to Dr Rodriguez at RCINJ. I woke up from surgery on July 29th to learn I had stage 3b epithelial ovarian cancer. I can still remember the words Dr. Rodriguez said to me as she left the recovery room - “ I will do everything I can to make you well.” She offered me hope as I joined the almost 700 women who would be diagnosed in NJ that year.
She also offered me a phase 1 clinical trial of standard chemo along with selenium which I decided participated in. Nine cycles and 7 months later I was told I was disease free. The thread as survivor added to my fabric.
As my hair grew in and I became stronger I went to follow-up visits at CINJ. I heard about the LiveSTRONG Survivors Summit in Austin , Tx . Attending that summit weaved another thread in my story that of being an advocate. It was an incredibly empowering experience and laid the groundwork for my involvement in a number of organizations, educating about symptoms and blogging .
Life slowly returned to a new normal. I went back to work. I watched my son graduate college, my daughter receive her graduate degree and marry in May 2008.
In Oct that year, after a routine CT scan Dr. Rodriguez called me to say that my cancer had returned in two spots one on my liver the other on my spleen. This time I knew a lot more about ovarian cancer so I looked at the three treatment options I was offered and decided I would have surgery first – which included removing my spleen and resectioning my liver - and then six chemotherapy treatments. In the spring of 2009, I heard there was no evidence of disease.
I’ve gone back to yet another new normal, which includes spending time with family which grew by two grandsons and a daughter-in-law , dog agility, and of course advocacy. I feel I have a responsibility to all the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer who are no longer with us to be their voice and to speak up for the needs of women dx with the disease. Since my recurrence a major portion of my time is spent on research advocacy work and supporting other survivors.
In 2013, along with another ovarian cancer advocate I cofounded the Gynecologic Cancer Social Media Community on Twitter which we call #gyncsm. And another thread was added to my life. Along with our co-moderators, three gynecologic oncologists and a psychologist, we hold monthly chats on topics of interest to those impacted by gyn cancers. Because of my work with gyncsm I’ve had the amazing opportunity to attended the Am Society of Clinical oncology Annual Meetings and became an advocate member of the society ...
There are times the neuropathy in my toes bothers me. Chemo brain frustrates me. And I still get anxious waiting for test results. But the threads of my life have including many blessings. I’ve had the opportunity to meet amazing women diagnosed with ovarian cancer like Tina, Dawn and Terry.
In the past almost 12 years I have seen progress for women with ovarian cancer – new medicines, targeted therapies, IP chemo, recommendations that women with OC to receive genetic testing, research into immunotherapy and circulating DNA. And it is survivors, caregivers and friends like you – those passionate about raising awareness and finding a cure that are helping make a difference.
It is wonderful to be here as you celebrate your 5th event. The Graceful Hope family has weaved their thread into my life and my heart. Thank you.
Every Day is a Blessing!