By Linda Dzobiek
I have been living with ovarian cancer for 13 years. I was diagnosed at age 53 with Stage 3C ovarian cancer, and after receiving care near my home in Providence, Rhode Island, my doctor referred me to Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers for a clinical trial. I have been in treatment for 9 out of the 13 years since my diagnosis, and throughout my time as a cancer patient, I’ve experienced many ups and downs. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
- Clinical trials are important. Many of us are diagnosed with ovarian cancer when it is already advanced, and when there might not be enough standard treatments. As a result, I have become a cheerleader for clinical trials. Some patients might think that a clinical trial is a last resort, and that they will become lab rats if they participate in one, but this is not the case. I am currently participating in a clinical trial that tests the combination of a PARP inhibitor (olaparib) with a kinase inhibitor. Being in a clinical trial is a big commitment of time, but well worth it.
- Ovarian cancer can be genetic. If you have ovarian cancer, it is important to be tested to see if you have any genetic mutations such as BRCA-1 or BRCA-2. My own family history turned out to be complicated. I tested positive for BRCA-2, although this was not the cause of my ovarian cancer. There is a history of breast cancer on my husband’s side, and his sister has ovarian cancer. My daughters were tested and one has BRCA-2; the other, BRCA-1.
- Living with cancer is not easy, especially when it becomes long-term. I have had a lot of surgeries, including a colostomy, and many types of chemotherapy and other drugs. I was on chemo for four years straight. I had to leave my job overseeing a health care program for the homeless, but I still use my experience as a nurse in my patient advocacy work.
- Cancer changes your relationships. Even though you have survived, your experience affects everyone around you. Cancer has taken a toll on my husband, Joe, but with support we continue to navigate these sometimes difficult waters. In my larger circle, I found that some people step up, and others cannot. I made new friends from the cancer world. I attend a support group and appreciate the camaraderie that I have with other patients from different walks of life, because cancer is our shared experience.