As an MD Anderson employee myself, I’ve witnessed the care and expertise of our doctors and staff firsthand. So, when I was diagnosed with a stage III germ cell tumor — a rare type of ovarian cancer — in August 2018, deciding where to go for my treatment really was a no-brainer.
Germ cell tumors account for only about 5% of ovarian cancer diagnoses annually. But at MD Anderson, there are physicians who specialize in my exact type of cancer, so it’s not rare to them. I wanted to go someplace I knew I’d have the best chance of a positive outcome. That’s why I chose MD Anderson.
My sole ovarian cancer symptom
The only ovarian cancer symptom I had was some bloating. I attributed it to a strong course of antibiotics I’d just finished. My gynecologist thought the same thing. Then, she discovered a hard spot when she pressed down on my belly during a well-woman exam. An ultrasound and an MRI showed a seven-inch mass on my left ovary.
That was a surprise. Even so, I wasn’t really worried. I was only 32 at the time and otherwise healthy. My doctor was fairly confident it was just a large fibroid or an ovarian cyst. But regardless of what it turned out to be, the tumor needed to be removed. Since I’d never had surgery before, I was much more concerned about having that procedure done than I was about the possibility of having cancer.
My ovarian cancer diagnosis
I first learned that the lump was ovarian cancer when I was in the recovery room after surgery. But it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I discovered I might need chemotherapy, too. My gynecologist said she’d found some cancer cells in the biopsies of the surrounding tissues, so I’d need more than just surgery to treat it.
That was when it finally sunk in that this was something serious. It felt like my world had come crashing down on me. As I recovered from surgery at home, I felt scared, angry and hopeless by turns. Eventually, I stopped obsessing on the negative and focused on the positive. I couldn’t change the situation I was in, but I could do something to fix it. That’s when I called MD Anderson.
Experiencing the MD Anderson difference, personally
I’d always heard that patients at MD Anderson receive individualized care. Now, I know that’s true. Because the first treatment plan I discussed with my oncologist, Dr. Aaron Shafer, was actually the same one my previous doctor had recommended; it’s considered the standard of care for my type of cancer.
But after asking me lots of questions (such as whether or not I suffer from motion sickness), Dr. Shafer discussed my case with his colleagues and decided I’d do better on a different chemotherapy regimen. Some research has shown this alternate regimen is equally effective in certain cases, but this option might be gentler on my body.
That sounded great to me. Just the fact that Dr. Shafer cared enough to ask me questions — and to suggest alternatives based on my answers — showed me that patients really do come first at MD Anderson.
What I’ve learned from ovarian cancer
I ended up having four rounds of chemotherapy over almost 13 weeks at MD Anderson, a combination of carboplatin and etoposide. I’ve been cancer-free since January 2019.
I know I’m really lucky. That’s why I tell everyone: don’t put off your preventive exams. I get it: they’re not fun. But don’t skip them just because you’ve never had any problems. If I hadn’t seen my doctor for my annual well-woman exam, my ovarian cancer might not have been detected until it was too late to treat it. And I might not still be here.
Pay attention to your body, too. Notice how you feel when you’re healthy. This will make it that much easier to notice when something isn’t right. And get your preventive exams. I’m living proof that they can save your life.