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99 problems but cancer ain’t one

Summer 2014

My diagnosis changed my life. And for that I’m very thankful

By Megan Silianoff

Finding humor during cancer
Click on the image to watch the video

I was a newlywed, a self-appointed Chicago socialite and an Urban Outfitters’ patron. I was working as a recruiter and harboring an obsession with Jay-Z. I was all of these things and 28 years old when I found out I had ovarian cancer.

Looking back, the only thing more shocking than the blindsiding diagnosis was the fact I’d eventually be genuinely happy this happened to me.

After several days of deferring to my mom to break the news to friends and family, and watching her sob through it every time, I realized I needed to take matters into my own hands. This whole thing was too scary. Too depressing. I wanted to lighten the mood and the message.

I decided to start a patient blog, which allowed me to control how and what people learned about my ongoing prognosis. I could also tell people about the cancer in my own voice; a voice that turned out to be quite irreverent and mildly profane.

My cancer prognosis initially was dire and confusing, consisting of opposing opinions from prestigious hospitals. Originally, I was told I had both breast and ovarian cancer and that chemo would be necessary. However, after seeking second and third opinions, it was determined I didn’t have breast cancer and didn’t need chemo. (I had serous, low malignant potential tumors, which tend to be unresponsive to chemo and radiation. That’s why I got to skip that hell on earth.) Although I had four surgeries in 17 months, I considered myself incredibly lucky.

Shortly into remission I realized I missed my blog. I didn’t miss the cancer aspect — but I did miss the writing. My patient blog allowed me to find my voice and writing style, and establish an audience that responded to what I had to say.

Blogger Megan Silianoff and her 
daughter, Macy, in her home office.
Photos: Wyatt McSpadden

So, in January of 2011, I started “Greetings from Texas,” a lifestyle blog in which I explore and write about whatever it is I feel compelled. Whether it be my obsession with Kylie Jenner’s hair, a recipe for black-bean brownies, an outfit I want to show off or my sexual attraction to Harry Connick Jr.

Eventually, “Greetings” began to cultivate an audience outside of my friends and family. I began to work with brands and attend blogging conferences — at some of which I was a speaker. As my traffic grew, the blog even became mildly profitable.

In the process of building “Greetings” and pursuing domestic adoption with my husband of our daughter, I felt I had more in me than one-off posts. I wanted to share my experiences with cancer and adoption — somber subjects told in a light-hearted way, just like I’d done in my patient blog.

So I decided to write a book. After about a year and half of plugging away, I had my title: “99 Problems But a Baby Ain’t One — A Memoir About Cancer, Adoption, and My Love for Jay-Z.” It was published by Brown Books this past September.

These days, I continue to promote “99 Problems But a Baby Ain’t One.” I conducted a four-city book tour in 2013 and continue to do signings and speaking engagements at various blogging conferences.

I’ve presented my story to companies such as Facebook and the U.S. Navy, hoping to inspire them with my experiences. I’m also working on two new books: a children’s book and an adoption book, which I’m co-writing with an Atlanta author.

Insight from a young ovarian cancer patient
Click on the image to watch the video

Every day I wake up I’m genuinely excited about my work. Whether it’s writing blog posts for “Greetings from Texas,” working on my books or writing freelance pieces for clients, I’m in love with what I do and my life — a life I never would’ve had without cancer.

Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me. Without cancer my husband and I would never have adopted Macy, the crazy, whip-smart, Elmo-obsessed little girl who makes us laugh and experience love in a whole new way. Without cancer I never would have become a writer, a career that fulfills and energizes me every day. Without cancer I wouldn’t know how capable and strong I can be when push comes to shove.

I’ll say it again because I acknowledge it’s a provocative thing to declare, but I don’t want to be misunderstood.

Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Megan Silianoff is a writer from Chicago who started her wellknown blog, “Greetings from Texas,” after moving to Houston in 2011. Her ovarian cancer diagnosis paved the way for a successful writing career, which includes a published memoir and two more books in the works. In her spare time, she manages social media for Langford Market and Cheeky Vintage, two Houston boutiques. She also has been a contributor to MD Anderson’s Cancerwise blog. She and her husband, Danny, have been married for six years and have a 19-month-old daughter, Macy, and a 7-year-old Vizslabeagle mix named Booker.

Excerpts from “99 Problems But a Baby Ain’t One”

Silianoff, Macy and the family’s 
Vizsla-beagle mix, Booker

  • We leave for MD Anderson this week. I have no idea when I’ll be back, but I do know I plan to be poolside for the majority of the trip. How did I end up with ovarian cancer and not skin cancer? It’s like God doesn’t know me at all.
  • The tumor board at MD Anderson, arguably the most prestigious cancer hospital in the world, is stumped by my case. I don’t know whether to be proud or pissed.” (I’m leaning towards proud.)
  • I heard from Cara, my genetic counselor, today. It appears my genetic shortcomings are limited to the areas I’m already aware of: height, math and math. (Seriously, I’m really bad.)
  • I like my new allergy doctor. He’s a smooth cat. He fist bumps. He fist bumped me on his way out of the examination room, which I think should be the new standard for anyone who practices medicine. Any of you doctors reading this, write this down. Patients like fist bumps.
  • The nurse asked the usual stuff: current medications, if I was in pain, had I fallen recently. I actually had fallen recently, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t cancer-related. Just drunk-related. I decided not to share.
  • I can’t tell you how nice it is to be back home. My dog, my bed, the 4 a.m. gunshots. (Totally kidding prospective buyers of our condo! Non-prospective buyers: Help! I’m scared!)

From “Greetings from Texas”:

  • Megan Silianoff, 28, is a healthy young woman consistently mistaken for Rachel Bilson. (She wishes.) Megan resides in Chicago and is married to Danny Silianoff, 35, consistently mistaken for Kevin James. (Despite his wishes.)
  • Easter came and went and we embraced the holiday fully. Easter baskets? Nailed it. Easter egg hunt? Obviously. Church? Radio silence.
  • While Macy has agreed to participate in her budding fashion career, she’s made it clear that it’s a commitment that will come secondary to her true passion of throwing toys in the toilet.
  • Everyone I know thinks I’m a terrible driver. Including the police. I have to take defensive driving soon.

From her patient blog:

  • Hi. I’m Megan. As you now know, I have cancer. If you’re shocked, take comfort in knowing that I am, too.
  • I had 48 hours until my appointment with the oncologist. I spent 40 of them obsessing about losing my hair. The other eight were spent watching “The Rachel Zoe Project.”
  • I spent the next few days in the hospital. I eventually proved to the nurses and doctor that I was ready to go home. I could walk. I could eat. I could say “I want to go home now.”

Related story: Adoption after cancer

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center