When she was 32 years old, Dawn went to the doctor because she had been having some spotting between periods and a painful urgency to go to the bathroom. In hindsight she also had no appetite, would get full very quickly after eating a small amount and was lacking energy. Her doctor thought she had an ectopic pregnancy, but 5 pregnancy tests disproved her suspicion. Dawn was sent for an ultrasound and received a call at work the next day saying she had had two masses on her ovaries, one of which was quite large and complex. She was sent to see a gynecologist who was confident the mass was malignant and said Dawn would need immediate surgery and possibly a complete hysterectomy. Because of the seriousness of the diagnosis, Dawn wanted to get a second opinion. Unfortunately, because she had an HMO, she had to go through a lengthy process of changing primary care doctors and getting referrals. The waiting was incredibly stressful.
Luckily, the wait was worth it and Dawn was very happy with her new doctors. Her new gynecological oncologist said that her tumor could be benign, malignant or borderline. She went into surgery expecting to have a complete hysterectomy. While the doctors hoped to save her fertility, they made it clear that their first goal was to save her life. The surgery showed that she had a borderline tumor, which is essentially stage 1A ovarian cancer that was contained to one ovary and had not metastasized. The surgeons removed a 10cm tumor as well as her left ovary and fallopian tube.
The whole process was difficult for Dawn. In additional to the emotional toll of a cancer diagnosis, she had a severe allergic reaction to her painkillers after surgery. The picture to the right shows her broken out in an itchy, burning rash. She took the picture of herself to remind herself that she would hopefully never feel that awful again. Even after her body had recovered, Dawn struggled with the fertility issues that came along with her diagnosis. She was forced to ask herself several difficult questions like, what if I can't have children? What if it's too dangerous to have children? Am I passing on a genetic disaster to my hypothetical children? These are issues Dawn continues to deal with 5 years later.
Dawn knows she dodged a bullet and says that, “Not a day goes by that I don't realize how insanely lucky I was that this wasn't worse than it was.” Yet, her fight is not yet over. To reduce the risk of reoccurrence, eventually Dawn will likely have a complete hysterectomy and removal of her remaining ovary. In the meantime, she has annual ultrasounds and exams to check for any new tumor or cystic growths and needs to be on oral contraceptives to prevent further tumor growth and will only go off of the pill if trying to get pregnant.
This was not Dawn’s first experience with cancer. She lost her dad to colon cancer when she was 22 after a 6-year battle. Through her dad’s battle she, “saw the horrors that the human body is capable of.” She thinks that losing her dad and watching him suffer was probably more difficult than her own diagnosis.
|Dawn with Jonny Imerman|
Dawn believes that support is vital for anyone facing a cancer diagnosis. She feels that many people don’t fully understand the psychosocial challenges and feelings of isolation that come with a cancer diagnosis. Dawn has now dedicated herself to providing support to others. She began volunteering with Imerman Angels, an organization that connects cancer fighters, survivors, and caregivers to provide one-on-one cancer support. According to Dawn, “Imerman Angels has been my community to try to make sense of all of this and bond with others who have gone through a similar experience. When I am with the Imerman Angels community, I don't feel alone. I don't feel ashamed or embarrassed or any of the other emotions that I have felt at one point between the experience I've had with my dad and my own experience.”
To help support those fighting cancer, please check out Imerman Angels!