My story starts when I was 17 years old and a Senior in high school. It was Sunday, October 1, 2006 and I was having the worst abdominal pains I’d ever had. I thought I was starting my menstrual cycle, but when it never came, I told my parents about the cramps. They had taken me to the emergency room at the Naval Hospital aboard the base we live by and the ER doctor there didn’t do much except tell me that it was “most likely” gas and that I “most likely” was unable to move bowels. I was furious with the Dr. and wanted him to do some sort of test…. anything to figure out why I was having so much pain, but it was late and I had school the next day, so I just figured the pain would eventually go away. Well, I turned out to be wrong, and I ended up skipping school monday because the pain was so bad that I could barely walk. I went to bed early that night and was praying that the pain would subside. Tuesday morning rolled around and I got up to get ready for school. While in the shower, the pain had gotten so bad that I quickly got out and went to wake up my mom. Bawling my eyes out, I asked her to take me back to the ER cause something did not seem right. Once we got there, I was amazed at how fast everything went. I barely waited 10 minutes before they put me in a room, the ER Dr. immediately got an ultrasound done to see if there was anything wrong. While getting the ultrasound, the performing tech said, “oh my”…. at that point my heart dropped. I was thinking that I was pregnant…. Once back in the ER room, the Dr. came in telling me nothing. He simply said that a OB/GYN would have to come in to discuss the ultrasound results with me and said that it could take up to an hour for one to come see me. Not even 15 minutes later a little, middle-aged woman dressed in green scrubs enters the room with my results. She put the film sheet up and started saying that she was “very impressed”. In my abdomen, cutting off blood circulation to my right ovary, was a tumor slightly larger than a grapefruit. She continued to say that she wanted to remove it as soon as possible. I was thinking that we’d set up a day and time for me to come back in and have the surgery to remove it. I was greatly mistaken. Before leaving the room, she mentioned that she was going to cancel all her afternoon appointments and wanted me in surgery that day no later than 1pm. At this point, I was crying harder than I ever had. I was so scared and never having surgery before, I didn’t know what to expect. My mom immediately called my dad (who was working in a town that was an hour away), my sister (who was at work as well), and my school’s principal to let him know what was going on. My dad and sister both were able to leave work and come to the hospital. And my principal was completely understanding and told my mom not to worry about me missing school and that he’d take care of everything. Not long after my dad and sister got there, I was being rolled back into the OR. I don’t remember how long I was in surgery for, but during it they took out the tumor and my right ovary and fallopian tube. I was out of school for about a month. On October 12, 2006, I received the worse news possible. The OB/GYN who had performed the surgery asked that both my parents attended the check-up/consultation. After she checked to make sure the incision was healing properly, we went back to her office and she proceeded to tell us that the tumor turned out to be Dysgerminoma. She was sure that they had caught it before it spread anywhere, but just as a precaution she referred me to Leo Jenkins Cancer Center in Greenville, NC. I had never been so nervous to go to the Dr.’s and it didn’t help that I never have liked going to hospitals. My parents and I drove an hour and a half to Greenville for one of many appointments I’d have there….. we just didn’t know it at the time. I had a CT Scan done and it showed a cyst on my remaining ovary, my left ovary, but my Dr. said he wanted to watch it and see if it goes away, so he scheduled me to have another CT Scan 3 months later. I was all set up to graduate early so I was “set” for what was to come. My mom was getting concerned about 2 months after my initial appointment at Leo Jenkins cause I was sleeping a lot. I hadn’t really noticed, but apparently I was going to sleep not long after I got home from school and stayed asleep until I’d get up for school the next day. The last day I had to attend school was January 19, 2007. My mom had set up another appt. for me to go in for a CT Scan and what it showed changed my life forever. The cyst my Dr. had previously seen changed density. He set up a surgery for March 25th. It was going to be laproscopic, but they were unable to do it (don’t remember why). So instead they did an exploratory surgery and cut my abdomen vertically leaving me with a very noticeable scar. Once they opened me up, they saw more tumors. My appendix was removed, some lymph nodes, fatty tissue, the cyst on my left ovary, and half of that ovary. Once out of surgery, I was told that I’d have to undergo intense chemotherapy to kill off the rest. 2 weeks after that surgery, I had to go back to get a port put in so I could receive the chemo. 3 days after I got the port put in, I had my first session of chemo. Each session for me was 5 days in the hospital, each day I’d receive a different chemo drug. Well, they were unable to use the port cause it was still very tender from when they’d put it in. So for my first session, they administered the chemo into my arms. They kept having to move the site of the IV so by the time I was discharged I had 9 different bruises from each IV site. The ride back home was miserable and seemed so much longer than an hour and a half. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time I was going through all this, was amazingly supportive. He commuted back and forth from Cherry Point (the military base we live by that he works on) to the hospital in Greenville. Every day I was in the hospital he was there with me. He even took a week of leave (time off) to be with me during my March surgery. I was amazed that he was willing to do that for me. All the nurses I had taking care of me when I was receiving chemo were great. They were always telling me how I was their favorite patient…. and their youngest. I had a chest x-ray done on day 1 of my first session, and later I found that there was a tumor in my chest that was inoperable. I didn’t really think anything of it…. I knew God would take care of me. My Senior Prom was around the corner, and I was excited to be able to go and see all my friends…. but I felt miserable and was spending lots of time with “the porcelain god”. I had my hair all done, my make-up was on, my dress and shoes were out, my boyfriend had gone and got a fresh haircut, his Dress Blues were all ready to go, but I was too sick. About a week after my prom, my worse nightmare started to occur…. my hair started falling out. I got my hair cut to my jaw line and by the 4th day, my boyfriend was pulling my hair out while I was sitting in front of a mirror. I was tired of waiting for it all to come out. I cried for hours and couldn’t stand looking at myself. I felt ashamed…. embarrassed even. I loved my hair; it was always long and in a matter of days it was gone. I didn’t want to leave my house at all and insisted on getting a wig. My dad, boyfriend, and “brother” all shaved their heads bald for me. After awhile, I got the courage to go out, only because it was time for my second chemo session. 4 weeks had passed in between those sessions. After my second session, I was worse off than after my first session. I was extremely week, couldn’t hold anything down, and lost about 20 pounds and weighed 114. I felt like dying and hated throwing up practically 24/7. I had become anemic and my potassium and magnesium levels had gone way down. I ended up having to be hospitalized at the Naval Hospital again cause one night I’d woken up with pains in my shins that were so severe I couldn’t walk. My mom had called Pitt Memorial’s after-hours line to see if there was anything I could do to help with the pain. They suggested to try taking a warm bath to see if it would ease it any. I didn’t…. I was in so much agony that I was screaming. The pains weren’t constant, they were sporadic, yet frequent. I was told to go to Halyburton Naval Hospital on Cherry Point and I’d get fluids pumped into me, along with magnesium and potassium. I was only there for the night was discharged in the morning. I was prescribed magnesium and potassium pills. At this point I was taking about 5 different prescribed pills. Eventually I went in for my third chemo session and everything seemed to be getting better. My fourth and final chemo session came around and I thought “this is it, my last chemo session!”. Well, my heart rate had been accelerated for some time…. it was almost always 120, even if I was just sitting watching tv. So before I got any chemo, I was told that I needed to have an echocardiogram done. Well, that showed that I had a blood clot in my heart on the end of the catheter from the port. From there, I was told to go to the ER at Pitt Memorial (where I was anyway). Once there, they admitted me into the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). I was put into the PICU because I was still 17 and not an adult yet…. needless to say, I was the oldest person in there. The PICU Dr.’s and Cardiologists said that I wasn’t going to be able to leave the PICU until the blood clot was gone. I was NOT happy with that cause my high school graduation was in 7 days. It was June 1st and my graduation was June 7th. I was put on a blood thinner shot that I had to give myself twice a day. It was difficult at times, but I had to do it. I could always tell where I had given myself the shots cause they always bruised. June 7th rolled around, and I begged to be discharged. The Dr’s finally caved in…. I was discharged TWO hours before my graduation was supposed to start. It was an hour and a half drive home…. so I didn’t have much time to do anything. My Aunt, cousin, and my dad’s parents flew in from MN to see me graduate. My mom’s mother was already in town…. she’d always lived with us for months at a time throughout my childhood. I got to my school barely 15 minutes before starting time. I had no clue what I was supposed to do cause I was on strict orders not to walk. My dad pushed me into the gymnasium in a wheelchair and put me with my class. He sat close by cause he was going to push me across the stage to get my diploma. But I refused to do that, I wanted to walk the stage like everyone else to receive my diploma. So I did. When I got up there, I got an unexpected surprise…. my principal had asked me to “hold on a second”. He went over to the table and grabbed an award from under the diploma table. He grabbed the microphone from the podium and proceeded to say this, “Stephanie is receiving the Spirit of the Cougar Award this year because she’s been battling cancer and just got out of ICU a few hours ago so she could be here with us today”. I lost it, I was crying so hard, he was crying, my vice principal was crying, my dad was, a lot of people were crying. He hugged me and I walked off the stage and met up with my dad and the wheelchair. I still didn’t sit down in it until I went to my seat amongst my classmates. Everyone in the gym was standing and applauding, some of my friends came out and gave me a hug as I was walking back to my seat. The Spirit of the Cougar Award is presented to one person from the Senior class who everyone in the class elects. I was so touched and completely surprised. 2 days after my graduation, my family from MN left and I went back to Greenville for my final chemo session. I was ready for it all to be over. I was discharged from the hospital on July 2nd…. 2 days before my 18th birthday. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling too “hot” on my birthday, but we went out anyway to celebrate. About 2 weeks after that, my boyfriend got deployed to Iraq for 7 months. I didn’t want him to go, but I knew we couldn’t do anything about it. In August 2007, I had another chest x-ray to see if the tumor in my chest was gone…. it was!!! So I was officially in remission! Everything was looking good until December. They had done a CT Scan and saw another cyst on my remaining half ovary. They kept a close eye on it cause didn’t want to put me through a 3rd surgery and it turn out to be nothing. At the end of January 2008 it began to look worrisome so they scheduled me for surgery on February 27, 2008. Thank God my boyfriend was back from deployment by then, I don’t know what I would’ve done without him there with me. They were able to save my half ovary, and the cyst turned out to be benign, so I was still in the clear and in remission. Having cancer has drastically changed my life. I have a different outlook on life and hate seeing people who are throwing their lives away by doing stupid stuff. I have a much greater appreciation for life and live each day loving and embracing it as much as possible. I thank God for every day I’m alive and get to spend with my loved ones.
One of my cousin’s wrote this when he heard what was going on with me:
I have been overseas away from home for over a year with only a 2 week break to see my family then come back.
I have been in a combat zone being shot at, blown up, rocketed, mortared, and suicide bombed.
I walk for hours on end back and forth on a sand berm in 100+ degree heat through rain and sandstorms always watching for trouble because trouble doesn’t wait on weather
I carry almost 80 pounds of armor, ammo, and equipment while on duty
I carry my M4 with its 203 anytime I go on the berm and hold it tight no matter how heavy it feels, I wont set it down.
I keep a physical condition that most people can’t comprehend so I can be ready to win any fight that comes my way.
I sleep in irregular patterns lucky to get a solid 8 hours but still expected to do my job even if I don’t sleep at all.
All this and I think I’m strong, that I’m hard, damn near invincible.
I have seen true strength and I am far from it.
She has had numerous surgery’s to remove cists that were more than likely cancerous.
She lost practically both her ovaries
She’s spent days in a hospital hours from her home and family
She’s starting Chemotherapy to get rid of what Cancer is still within her
There may still be more cists to remove
…. And she hasn’t even graduated high school
To still want to wake up each day after facing that is true strength, I can’t even comprehend an iota of what she has gone through. I feel like shit being family and not being able to visit her. The sacrifices she has to make are appalling for someone her age. I am not a religious man for my own reasons, even in a combat zone I rarely pray. But you can be damn sure I have said more than one for her, it’s all I can do from where I am and it pains me so.
I love you steph and I’m sorry I can’t be there…
She is as strong as I wish I was.
Last updated on: 09/13/2009
We love you Steph and you are never far from our thoughts and prayers
Peggy Stark – 09/13/2009
i hope and pray only good things are ahead for you and your sweet little husband good luck in your new move and house Iwill miss you very much,please stay in touch!love to you aways.stay safe watch out for the big palmetto bugs!!
Debbie Woodward – 09/17/2009
We love you Steph and Brian too.
Jean Nies – 09/18/2009
Steph, you have gone through the fire and come out stronger on the other side. Keep the faith. You are in our prayers. Take good care of Brian. Love you guys.
Mary Proell – 09/22/2009
Your story is a heartfelt one. I was only 19 when it happened to me. I am glad your doing well. I enjoyed learnign about you. Your story will always stay with me
vikki sgro-konopka – 01/25/2010
Now that?s sultbe! Great to hear from you.
Reno Reno – 06/02/2011
I had no idea you went thru all this. I am so happy you are doing good and loving life. Miss you! Happy birthday
melissa peña – 07/04/2011
I had no idea you went thru all this. I am so happy you are doing good and loving life. Miss you! Happy birthday
melissa peña – 07/04/2011
You’re the one with the brinas here. I’m watching for your posts.
Hayle Hayle – 10/07/2011
I just started fnollwiog your blog and that cyst looks all too familiar. I had a laparoscopy surgery (#2) about 10 days ago to remove a cyst. It looked exactly the same on the ultrasound and it happened to be on my left tube, not my ovary like it looked. Last time (Oct 2010) my RE drained it, but it came back like 2 months later. This time he completely removed the tissue. When he got inside the cyst he found there was a tumor that had grown from my ovary. It was benign, but I ended up losing my left tube. I can’t wait to have another ultrasound and not see that HUGE dark mass. Every one I’ve ever had has shown it. It got to 8 cm at one point, but I was completely asymptomatic. It sounds like you have had a lot of pain which really stinks. Best of luck for your surgery. I am already feeling so much better and it hasn’t been much time. I hope you recover quickly!
Serge Serge – 03/29/2012