On our fourth wedding anniversary, I gave my husband the happy news that we were going to be parents. Our son, Cole, was born in January 2002, followed by two more boys, Cade in 2004 and Austin in 2005. I began to refer to the boys as my "little cowboys," and the name stuck.
The days when they were babies went by in a blur. I was exhausted, my house was a wreck, everything I touched was dirty or sticky or grubby -- and I loved my life. Each of my little cowboys could melt my heart with just one word: "Mommy."
In June 2007, when my sons were 5, 3, and 1½ years old, some unusual pain landed me in the ER. Several tests were inconclusive, but they raised enough suspicion that my ob/gyn thought it a good idea to do an exploratory surgery to check for ovarian cancer.
The morning after the operation, the doctor said six words that changed my life: "I have bad news. It's cancer."
"I don't belong here."
Within days of my ovarian cancer diagnosis, I had an appointment scheduled with a gynecologic oncologist. I remember three things from that day:
- I had to ask a friend to keep my little cowboys while I went to the doctor. I hated the feeling of needing help.
- I was scared to death. Everything seemed routine -- no big deal -- to the nurse, the doctor and even the receptionist. The fact that I had ovarian cancer and did not know what to do, or even what questions to ask, added to my fear.
- The waiting room was filled with sick, bald-headed women. I wanted to scream, "I don't belong here!"
Three days after my oldest son started kindergarten, I underwent surgery to take out the grapefruit-sized tumor from my body. The operation also included a full hysterectomy.
I signed the consent papers reluctantly, fully understanding the medical necessity, but heartbroken at the prospect of not being able to have more babies.
My heart still beats faster when I recall the fear that I felt as the anesthesiologist leaned over me and said, "Okay, Allyson. I want you to start counting backward from 30. Ready?" I didn't even make it to 20 before I plunged into darkness.
A funny way to learn about platelets
Two weeks later, I dragged my newly barren self back to the doctor's office. Along with my ovaries, I felt like my spirit had been cut out.
Recovery was much more difficult than I expected. With three little cowboys at home, quiet and rest were hard to come by.
As I waited to have my staples removed, the ladies next to me chatted happily. I was dumbfounded that anyone could have friends in an oncology office. Their conversation went something like this:
Lady 1: How are you?
Lady 2: I'm not that great today. I don't have any platelets.
Lady 1: What happened?
Lady 2: I've switched chemotherapy meds again. The new drug has messed up my blood, and I've had to have 3 units of blood. I'll tell you, after each blood unit, I would stop by Krispy Kreme on the way home. I would buy a dozen donuts and eat every single one. My husband would say, "Honey, are you hungry?" And I would tell him, "No, not really." Then we would drive through the donut place anyway. They were delicious.
Both ladies laughed like this was the funniest thing they had ever heard.
All I knew about platelets was that you could sell them for money in college. I had no idea how you could live without them, let alone eat a dozen donuts on borrowed blood, but I had a terrible feeling that I was about to find out. I was so depressed.
Beginning to heal after my ovarian cancer diagnosis
Slowly but surely, the wound on my belly began to heal. Just as surely, with a little help from my three cowboys, my heart began to heal as well.
I knew that I would be forever changed by ovarian cancer, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I refused to live in fear. I chose instead to allow my outlook on life to be altered: I wanted to pour myself into the things and the people that I loved, so that I would have no regrets.
At my post-op check-up, my doctor gave me the all-clear and instructed me to "go home and tell your sons that their mom will live to be an old lady." I joyfully did as he said.
I had no idea that my fight against ovarian cancer had barely just begun.
Allyson Hendrickson is a wife, a mom, and that means that she's living my dream. She loves her faith, her man, her boys and her dog. She thinks that kids are fun, and if we pay attention, we can learn more from them than they do from us. Follow Allyson's journey.