September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so we caught up with member Iris (Imartinez) to find out what living with this condition is really like. Iris opened up about getting diagnosed at just 28 years old, the challenges of her treatment journey and her passion for riding her motorcycle. For Iris, attitude is everything: “Having a POSITIVE mindset, I believe, makes a big difference.” Here’s what else she had to say…
Tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies and passions?
I’m an outgoing young adult who enjoys motorcycles! Since my diagnosis everything about me changed. My hobbies, my way of thinking, how I view life. One thing that has not changed is my passion for motorcycles. When I gain my strength back and summer comes back around that will be one of the main things I’ll be doing! I was a very selfish and materialistic person before my journey. Now that I have endured a long eight months of treatments, my hobbies and passions have changed. I enjoy reading about others who are going through a tough time and offering an ear or hand to help. I want to share my story to help others and let them know they are not alone! I want to raise money and participate in walks for cancers, not just ovarian but all types of cancers. I started crocheting as a therapeutic way to get through my transplants which helped me so much. Spending time with my family was always and still is a must.
What was your diagnosis experience like?
My journey began in July 2015 when my gynecologist found a mass on my ovary. I had my first surgery due to this immature teratoma in August, where I lost my right ovary and fallopian tube. Then I received the call that they found cancer cells in this teratoma, to which I should follow up with chemotherapy. I was devastated I couldn’t believe the message, I just remember crying and wondering why me. I did not follow up with chemotherapy, due to the fact that I was feeling good after surgery and had high hopes that I would be fine.
As the months passed, I began to feel pain in my lower back and thought nothing of it. I even mentioned it to my oncologist who said it was probably nothing, so I continued with my life. That was back in October. By January the pain had become so severe that on Friday, January 15, I left work early and went to the emergency room. There I was admitted and told my cancer was back with an aggression so intense I would have to start chemotherapy that Sunday.
How has life changed for you since your cancer?
My whole life stopped along with my heart! I couldn’t believe it but I kept that smile and high FAITH and hope on! So began my journey as a cancer patient. I was told I would have to go through four rounds of very intense chemotherapy known as BEP. After that I may need to follow up with surgery.
It’s now been seven months and I’m still in the life of a cancer patient. I underwent two more life changing surgeries. On top of the surgeries, they wanted me to do two stem cell transplants. The second surgery I had to go through was the most difficult one for me. I didn’t even want to go through with it. I was ready to give up and just go somewhere beautiful and live my life out. Then I realized my time on this earth is not done, I have so much to do and so many people to help! So I did the surgery. They did a full hysterectomy, leaving me with a huge scar on my abdomen. I was even told that I may have needed a permanent colostomy, which when I woke up I did not! The moment I was being told this was after I had endured the four months of chemotherapy so I was mad. My emotions could not be explained at that moment. It was the first time I cried in front of anyone about my cancer.
Then the next surgery I had to do was a removal of a mass in my chest. Chemotherapy killed a lot of the tumors that went from my pelvis up to my chest but left me with two. After having my last surgery, I was super sad! Knowing that I could not have a baby made things very difficult for a woman my age. Now I had to deal with them cracking my chest cavity open and leaving another scar. To get past that and prepare my mind for this, I would tell myself I’m going to look like the corpse’s bride. It was my way of coping with a new scar. So two weeks later we did that surgery. The night before the surgeon called me and told me they were going in through the side, which made me very happy! But with one little defect, one of my vocal nerves would have to be sacrifice, due to the tumor being too incased around it! I thought to myself oh of course. I got through both my surgeries just fine with a new voice I call Barbie.
I’ve become a super grateful person and an all-around different gal.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. How do you share about your condition, and what have you learned in your journey that you think people should know?
I will be participating in the 5K Ovarian Cancer walk Sept. 11, now that I have completed my treatment plan. I have shared some of my journey on Instagram but honestly, I shared a lot more on Snapchat to update my family and close friends. I have always been a strong willed person so for people to see me in such a weak stage bugged me. But since this journey I have broken out of that shell. I have taken many pictures since January until now, I even did videos. Now that I am at the end of this treatment plan I want to help others and let them know they are not alone! I have been working with doctors, an art therapist, nurses and anyone I can connect with to get my story out there. I want to begin to speak at events and sponsor walks. I will also be connecting with young adults’ cancer society.
In my journey I have learned many things, about myself and life. One thing that has stuck with me is how to be grateful. I’ve learned to feel for others and understand that everyone is different. Not everyone can take a situation and learn and grow from it. I want people to know that even though they may be going through a hard time in their life, the sunshine does break through the clouds. That they truly are not alone in their suffering. That there are people out there who can feel for them. Always educate yourself about what’s around you to help yourself. Having a POSITIVE mindset, I believe, makes a big difference. Staying positive through everything is what has also helped me a lot.
Since joining in May, you’re pretty active on PatientsLikeMe – how has it been for you to track your health and connect with others on the site?
Although I have just recently joined this year, connecting with others has been a pretty joyful situation. Being able to vent about how I feel and ask other patients for advice has been amazing. Tracking my health on PatientsLikeMe keeps me on track with what to ask doctors and look back at how bad some of it was. This is the only website I use to track and vent about my cancer. It’s easy to use and it was located on my Patient Gateway.
How has dealing with cancer as a young adult been?
Dealing with this cancer at just 28 has been one of the most difficult things put in my path. I had just landed the job of my career, as a Real Estate Paralegal. In an office were we all get along and everything felt just right. I was living by myself and getting the grasp of being a young adult on her own. I had plans to travel and plans for family birthdays that couldn’t be done. Dealing with my mother having sarcoidosis was another thing that ran through my mind.
I couldn’t be sick not now, not at this time of my life. I couldn’t vent to anyone about it because I didn’t want to stress anyone out. I was the healthiest, strongest person in my family — to be sick with cancer was devastating. I couldn’t put it in words, the way I felt. Finding people to comprehend what I was going through was tough. Going to appointments and never seeing people in my age group made it even worse. I felt like the only young adult whose life had changed. Seeing everyone continuing to live their lives made me feel even worse. I feel like there isn’t that much support for young adults. I also feel like a lot of these young adults don’t want to speak about what they have been through. I can completely understand why. It’s tough, I never wanted to be looked at differently or anyone to feel bad for me. So all I can say is that it’s tough, but I have learned and grown from this and now I want to help others.
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