On January 25th, I was diagnosed with high grade serious carcinoma ovarian cancer, stage 1C3. I never saw it coming. This is my story:
My name is June Salazar. I am from LaCoste, Texas but have lived in the Devine area for almost 12 years. I am 43 years old, married to Bryan Lorenz, and have three children – ages 19, 18 and 9 .
After diagnosis, I started to look back and realized symptoms probably started a few years ago. I remembered how I would get constipated more often. Nothing major but more so than what I had been. I would drink coffee and I’d be fine. Other symptoms were my periods started getting heavier, my cramps started getting worse and I’d end up staying in bed for most of the day because of horrendous hip pain. I just thought this was due to getting older. Another symptom was bloating. I wasn’t bloated every day but pretty frequently and, again, I thought it was my age and possibly my diet.
I’m not big on going to the doctor. I usually try to fix whatever ailment I have homeopathically. The things I tried worked for a while. One day though, I was binge watching Hoarders and decided to do a deep cleaning. It probably ended up saving my life.
On January 25th, I woke up with the worst pain of my entire life in my right hip, lower-right back and shooting down my right leg. I tried using a heating pad to ease the pain but there was absolutely no relief so I took a hot shower. That didn’t help either. I eventually called my husband crying and told him that he needed to take me to the ER. We took my youngest daughter to my parent’s house and went to Methodist Hospital. I was seen fairly quickly and given pain killers through an IV and it helped a little bit. They took me for a CT scan and told me that they had found a mass on each ovary and that they were going to take me back for an ultrasound to get a better view. The ER doctors let us know that the masses appeared to be cancerous and I would need a hysterectomy or biopsy to confirm. It was already like 10 p.m. so they said we would discuss it more with a gynecological oncologist the next day. I stayed overnight and spoke to the oncologist the next morning. He suggested that because I already had a tubal ligation that we do a full hysterectomy as opposed to a biopsy to avoid spillage and spread.
On Friday, January 27th, I had a robotic laparotomy. The oncologist confirmed that the masses, about tennis ball sized, were both cancerous and the reason I was in so much pain was because the right one had twisted. (My deep cleaning at home had twisted it!) He said it started in my right fallopian tube, dropped onto my right ovary, attached to my left ovary and that they had also found cells floating around in my abdomen. He also let us know that he felt he got everything out but that I would still need chemo to make sure. Usually, with laparotic surgery, you go home the same day and even though I was up walking around about two hours after my surgery, I stayed a few days in the hospital. Recovery wasn’t all that bad. I stopped taking painkillers the next day. I wasn’t supposed to carry anything heavier than a gallon of milk, drive or do a few other things for 6 weeks so I stayed with my parents for a bit.
About two months later, I went in for a follow up with the ER gynecologist oncologist. I was healing nicely and we discussed my treatment plan. However, I just wasn’t comfortable with him and decided to go for a 2nd opinion at UTHSC. My first visit was on April 5th and my new oncologist, Dr. Kost, has been great.
Less than a week later I had a port placed in my upper chest. The port has a line that goes near the large vein so I could get chemo or have blood drawn without having my arm poked all the time. I’m extremely squeamish when it comes to needles so this has helped a bunch. I, also, have some really potent numbing cream that helps.
On April 21st, I had another CT scan to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread as the ER doctor failed to do so. Dr. Kost called me on April 27th and let me know that the cancer had not spread and I was considered No Evidence of Disease (NED) and cancer free but that we were still doing six rounds of chemo. The chemo I received was adjuvant therapy which would reduce the possibility of the cancer coming back. Ovarian cancer has about an 80% chance of recurring.
I started my first chemo treatment on May 4th. The night before I took prescribed steroids and then three different premedications before the infusion at the center. I was terrified but the treatment went surprisingly well. I have been very fortunate to not have too many side effects. The first three treatments left me tired on days of infusion only, my taste was off for about a week, I had slight pain in my knees and ankles and occasionally, “chemo brain” forgetfulness. My hair started falling out 4 days after my first infusion. My 9 year old cut it short for me but my husband ended up shaving it 3 days later. The last three treatments left me tired and weak a few days longer but nothing that I wasn’t able to manage. My six infusions were every 21 days and in between that time, I would have to go for blood work a week after and a few days before to make sure my body could handle the chemo.
It wasn’t easy. I had many days and nights after my diagnosis that I was mad, scared, overwhelmed. I would cry to my husband and friends that it just wasn’t fair. I was a good person. I had kids that needed me. But cancer doesn’t care. When it knocks on your door, it changes you, your family and your entire life. It can also show you the strength and courage you didn’t realize you had. Once I was able to grasp that I was lucky to have been diagnosed early and that I was still alive, I was able to focus on fighting to stay healthy.
Today, I am still cancer free, I rang the bell on August 31st. My follow up appointment with my oncologist is in October after I have another CT scan to make sure the cancer is still gone. From there, we will decide on whether I go on maintenance chemotherapy pills for two years or just continue to have scans. My tumors will be tested to see if it is genetic. Which of course causes concern because I have two daughters but it also means my son could give it to any future kids he may have. My journey is not completely over but I am a warrior and a survivor and will continue to fight.
Diagnosing ovarian cancer is tricky. It is called the “Silent Killer” because the beginning symptoms are vague and usually misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, there currently aren’t reliable tests to indicate whether a mass found in the ovaries or fallopian tubes is malignant other than surgery. Many women are not diagnosed until stages 3 or 4 and by then it becomes harder to treat. It is estimated that 1 in 78 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. If ever you feel something is not right, listen to your body and advocate for yourself. If you feel that you are being ignored by your doctor, get a 2nd opinion.