Ovarian Cancer Survivor

Survivor is Now on the Giving End of Support

Elaine Crider overcame her ovarian cancer more than a decade ago. The retired human resource generalist and general manager still feels strong, energetic and healthy. When she’s not hanging out with her pug named Emma, Elaine spends her time reading, traveling and volunteering her HR expertise for nonprofits. She also supports her friend Rhonda, who is currently battling cancer, and volunteers her cancer knowledge for the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation Hotline. Elaine believes that service to others is the way to inner peace.

 

More than 30 years ago I received some simple advice from an internist that helped save my life: “Never skip an annual physical.” This advice is sound for everyone, but particularly for me. I was adopted when I was just nine days old so I don’t know anything about my biological history, which apparently makes me high-risk for everything. It was at my annual gynecologic visit in January 1999 that my doctor felt some “gravel” in one of my ovaries. He scheduled a six-month follow-up visit, and that’s when he felt the lump that led to my Stage IIC ovarian epithelial carcinoma diagnosis.

Five of my friends sat together in the hospital waiting room during the entirety of my five-hour surgery to remove the cancer. The deacon from my parish was there as well to ensure I had a private room. My surgery included a hysterectomy and a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. The surgeon also washed my peritoneum lining with saline and removed my appendix and all of the surrounding lymph nodes. Three days later, I began six rounds of paclitaxel (Taxol) and carboplatin (Paraplatin) chemotherapy.

During treatment I was terribly weak and not eating much—although peanut butter was a godsend. Side effects from the chemo included short-term memory loss, hearing loss, diarrhea, aching, neuropathy, constipation, hair loss, weepiness and a loss of stamina. Many days I couldn’t get out of bed. Through it all, my friends visited frequently. I received flowers, plants, books, stuffed animals and 133 get-well cards, which I still have. I also found out that complete strangers all over the city had me on their prayer lists. All of this helped make me well. Love, showing up and a lot of laughter are the best medicines for hope and immune strength.

Because so many people were there for me when I needed it most, I don’t hesitate to step up when I can. Rhonda Holman and I have been friends for more than 30 years, and four years ago Rhonda was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Her daughter lives in a different state, so I offered to care for her throughout her treatment even though my only caregiving experience comes from having been a cancer patient myself.

I researched Rhonda’s cancer type and helped her form initial questions for her doctors. I also took her to her first chemo appointment. I remember how terrified I was of that first injection, so I wanted to be there for her when she had hers and, as always, share some advice. I told her to sing songs in her head – my favorites were “Blue Skies” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” – and to visualize that the chemo was releasing Pac-Man into her system to search and destroy cancer cells.

Rhonda’s cancer eventually went into remission, but early this year it returned. This time, the doctors said she’d need a stem-cell transplant and more chemotherapy, which would render her totally down and out and unable to stay alone for nearly a month. I marshaled Rhonda’s army of friends and together we’ll serve as her driver, live-in caregiver, cook, laundress and more until she gets through the worst of it.

In addition to assisting Rhonda, I also volunteer for the Bloch Cancer Hotline. After my initial diagnosis, I called the hotline as a patient and spoke with a long-term ovarian cancer survivor. She shared information about her surgery, treatment and recovery experiences. I felt much safer following that call, and I now hope that I can help provide that feeling to others.

Although I have largely gone from patient to caregiver, I still visit my gynecologist every six months for checkups, and I monitor and graph my cancer antigen 125 number so I don’t miss a possible upward trend. Through my cancer experience, I learned that I am not alone and that I am loved very much. Blessings come from the relationships in our lives, and the more you give to others, the less you worry about yourself.

 

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