In January 2017, I went in for my annual gynecological exam. During the exam, my gynecologist noted that my uterus seemed enlarged and, suspecting that I had fibroids, sent me for an ultrasound. While having the ultrasound I watched the monitor trying to decipher the gray blobs I saw, wondering how I’d fit having fibroids removed into my busy life. At the conclusion, the radiologist reported that my uterus was fine but there were two abdominal masses – one on my left fallopian tube and the other on my right ovary. She handed me the ultrasound report and instructed me to take it directly to my gynecologist.
I tried frantically to read the report as I walked the block to my gynecologist’s office. I didn’t understand much of its contents but I understood the recommendation at the end: “referral to gynecological oncologist.” As I crossed an intersection I sent my husband a text from the middle of the street. It said simply: “I think my life just changed forever.”
I had no family history of cancer, and no troublesome symptoms – just some minor low back pain and pants that were a bit too tight, which I attributed to having just consumed a few too many holiday cookies. But within two weeks of my initial exam I had a new oncologist, a salpingo-oophorectomy and hysterectomy, and a diagnosis of stage IIA ovarian cancer. Within the month, I had started the first of 18 weeks of chemotherapy.
Because of you, I am a survivor
And now I am an ovarian cancer survivor. But I believe that the moniker “survivor” is misplaced on me. In popular culture, a survivor is a rugged individualist who overcomes insurmountable obstacles through shear Herculean strength and force of will. But it is actually with the strength and force of will of others that I survived.
I survived because I followed the advice of the medical professionals who treated me, benefitting from their years of hard-earned education, long hours in practice, and steadfast support of patients in challenging circumstances.
I survived because I reaped the rewards of the researchers’ tenacity to pursue novel ideas while simultaneously convincing others of their merits, and perseverance in the face of the myriad of barriers.
I survived because I gained the wisdom learned personally, painfully by the survivors who came before me and who courageously shared their experiences.
I survived because people who have never met me raised funds for research, or gave their time and talents to advocate on my behalf before anyone could know that I would need their advocacy.
I survived, not because of heroic attributes of my own, but because of the collective contributions of each of you.
Your work is incredibly important to me and all of my sisters in survivorship. We’re here, living life with all its trials and tribulations, and extending our collective gratitude to you – every. single. day. So when you leave this Symposium this weekend please take this with you: Cancer is a word, not a sentence, because of you.
Thank you, from all of us,
Sachia Stonefeld Powell
Ovarian Cancer Survivor