This post is dedicated to cancer survivors. I have learned so much from your daily acts of courage and from your acts of kindness. You are such an inspiration!
Today, May 20, 2016, is my cancerversary. Happy cancerversary to me!
One year ago today I went under the knife at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland to remove an ovarian cancer tumor. During my 4.5-hour surgery, I bid farewell to my ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix and omentum. My oncologist told me that she removed all of the cancer she could see, and in cancer speak, I was optimally debulked. Hooray!
My advanced-stage ovarian cancer diagnosis didn’t quite come out of left field. I had been having symptoms for awhile. Two months earlier, I was having severe abdominal pains and diarrhea every morning. I thought it was because of something I had eaten on two recent visits to Mexico, both within a few months of one another. I was also having intense pain during activities between the sheets. Plus, my stomach was bloated. Eventually my symptoms worsened, and, long story short, I was diagnosed with advanced-stage ovarian cancer. Most women with ovarian cancer are in the same boat as me — diagnosed at an advanced stage, as detection minus symptoms rarely occurs. Which, of course, is very sad.
In total, my treatment for ovarian cancer consisted of the following:
- One total abdominal hysterectomy, with a post-op hospitalization of six nights.
- One surgery for a bowel obstruction (six weeks after my initial surgery) with a hospitalization of five nights.
- Four out-patient blood transfusions.
- 18 weeks of dose-dense chemotherapy.
Now I’m rockin’ the remission thing, and I am feeling pretty good. After chemo, I was low on energy, unable to operate at full steam, but my day-to-day my energy is slowly returning (editor’s note from Andy: If by “slowly” she means 90 to 95 percent, then I agree with her) . Unfortunately, from a statistical standpoint, it’s highly likely that my cancer will return — most likely within a couple of years.
Because of the high incidence of return, I need to aggressively follow up on my health every three months. Mexico actually has good cancer care, but it remains to be seen if I can get adequate care in Zihuatanejo.
My follow-up consists of a blood test (CA 125) and a pelvic exam conducted by a GYN oncologist, a special type of oncologist who specializes in cancers of the reproductive organs. Due to language barriers, and my unfamiliarity with how Mexican doctors are trained, I’m not sure finding a GYN oncologist is going to be easy, although I have some leads.
Here in Zihuatanejo, I think I’ve located a clinic where I can get my CA 125 test, but I’m not even sure if their medical team specializes in oncology (they might be radiologists specializing in breast cancer). I’m planning to visit their offices next week. Several “in the know” sources have told me that I can easily get examined in Mexico City, but Mexico City is a nine-hour bus ride (or an easy 45-minute flight). But then there’s the expense of the exam, tests, hotel and airfare. I don’t have Mexican health insurance so I would have to pay out-of-pocket.
Another option is Morelia (three hours away), where they are supposed to have excellent medical care. Or perhaps it’s just best to be seen back in Oakland, CA every three months at Kaiser? After all, we have kept our Kaiser insurance. Why not use it? Or perhaps we’ll end up flying to L.A. every three months to the Kaiser there. There’s a direct flight daily.
No easy answers; just a lot of question marks. Finding out how I can get the best medical care possible is very daunting and it’s just one additional thing we have to worry about while we acclimate to Mexican culture. However, the thought of not fulfilling our dream of retiring to a foreign land never occurred to me. Yes, there are challenges, but I’m happy to have to face them.
Here’s one thing I do know. The American Cancer Society makes the following recommendations for celebrating one’s first cancerversary.
- Insist your significant other take you out to a fancy dinner.
- Enjoy a libation of your choice. If no champagne is available, an alternative libation, such as tequla, is OK, but the recommendation is to drink no less than Don Julio 1942.
If you’re female, please familiarize yourself with ovarian cancer symptoms.
And thanks again to family and friends who have supported the Ohr’s this past year, from my cancer to our decision to take the plunge and move to Mexico. We are grateful.