Ovarian Cancer Survivor

Found Strength One Day at a Time

A devoted grandmother of seven, Maryann Orabona wasn’t sure that she would live to meet more than her first granddaughter when she was diagnosed in 1997 with ovarian cancer. Maryann and her husband, Lee, an insurance executive, live in Smithtown, New York — on Long Island. They have two daughters and a son.

Maryann is a lifelong exercise enthusiast, she still regularly lifts weights and attends Zumba classes. She is retired from her career in real estate and office management but enjoys “giving back” by volunteering for the Bloch Cancer Hot Line. Maryann estimates that over the years, she has spoken to more than 80 fellow cancer survivors.

 

As the saying goes, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”* The same year my first grandchild was born, my husband received a wonderful promotion from work and wanted me to travel with him. Then I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

I worked in an obstetric-gynecologist office at the time. I was going through perimenopause with night sweats and erratic bleeding but had been careful to schedule regular pap smears and mammograms. Everything was fine until one day I couldn’t stop bleeding. I went for a sonogram at our office and they saw a mass on my ovary.

The doctor told me he was 99% sure it was benign, but because of its size — it needed to be removed. I had a hysterectomy with no complications. However, when I awoke from my surgery, my family had received the news that it was cancerous. I had ovarian cancer, stage II. The news was devastating.

When they gave me the diagnosis, I was numb and I froze. I thought of my kids and so many things: would I have a chance to see this or that?

After a while, I began to digest the news and thought, Where do I go from here? What do I need to do? I’m the type of person who has no patience. I want everything done yesterday. But with this kind of disease, you are forced to take things one day at a time.

So I began to dig for all the information I could find. I didn’t have access to the kind of information that is available now. Nonetheless, I wanted to be knowledgeable because information made me feel like I had some kind of control.

I also wanted additional medical opinions, so I made appointments at a Comprehensive Cancer Center. Both the first and the second doctor I saw told me the cancer had been caught early and was contained. It was not ever related to me that it was a death sentence. This gave me hope.

Post-surgery, I had six weeks of healing and then began chemotherapy. I was given six treatments of paclitaxel (Taxol) and cisplatin (Platinol) — once every three weeks overnight at the hospital. It was a difficult chemotherapy regimen because as the treatment continued, I was so tired, I had mouth sores, was nauseous and my hair fell out — even my eyelashes and eyebrows. All the while, my doctors were telling me that I was getting better and my blood counts were improving. I looked in the mirror and it was hard to believe what they were saying.

It was not easy. When I speak to patients, I tell them I had good days, but I also had some bad days. There were a few times where I pulled the covers over my head and stayed in bed. But you find the strength to go on, and when I felt good and wanted to get out, I wore hats, wigs, or turbans — and even false eyelashes. It made me feel better.

I found that a little encouragement went a long way. I would get cards and phone calls from my friends. My children and my husband were there for me. I joined an online ovarian cancer support group, which helped me tremendously.

When I finished the treatment, the doctors checked to see if I needed additional treatment. They measured my tumor marker (CA125), which has a normal range between 0 and 35. When I was diagnosed, my marker was 47. After treatment, it was 6 and has stayed at that level all these years. I couldn’t be more thankful.

Each day I tell everyone I’m close to that I love them. We cancer survivors are members of a club we never wanted to join, and while this is true, having cancer has helped me appreciate everything much more. I want to give back to others, live life unafraid and enjoy every bit of it.

*Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

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