May 1st (today) is a fabulous day, our Mom’s birthday, and our Henry’s birthday as well.
Today is also a heavy, but important, anniversary, as it marks ten years since one of my dearest friends, Andrea Smith, passed away at 37 years old after battling ovarian cancer for more than two years.
We became friends at our local First United Methodist Church, with her precious daughter, Rebecca, and my youngest daughter, Sara, being the same age.
To just meet us both, we were an unlikely pair. She was quiet and mild-mannered, a very sweet stay at home mom. I was, well, me. However, once she was comfortable, she was the funniest person, open, and, oh so kind. And she loved big. She was SO much fun to spend time with.
Once we got to know each other, we were fast friends.
I remember her doctors thinking they had found something suspicious during her routine GYN exam and she was scheduled for surgery. I was concerned, of course.
I heard from her husband that her surgery had gone smoothly on a Friday and then I had to work during the weekend and expected to talk to her at the beginning of the week again.
Before I did though, I learned, when running by the church to pick up my children that Sunday evening, that her doctors had told her that they were certain that they had found ovarian cancer and that it had spread. The person at church sharing this news said that they had performed a total hysterectomy as a result of these findings and that she felt this was particularly bad news because she “didn’t think Andrea was done having children.”
As it happened, Andrea’s sweet daughter, Rebecca, had some special needs that kept Andrea on her toes and she really hadn’t given more babies any thought at that point. More importantly, at that moment, it was as I’ve just recently told my husband about something else – as a nurse, there are so many things I just wish I didn’t know sometimes – and, as soon as I heard that report, I knew in my heart that more babies were the least of our worries. 😦
Shortly after, the whirlwind of port placements and chemotherapy started. Ever the trooper, Andrea truly never complained.
Even as more and more treatments failed, she never complained. I still have this card that SHE sent ME – because I was going through a difficult time – after she returned home from MD Anderson, learning that there were no new options:
Up until February of 2009 we were still able to take the kids to Chick Fil A and the playground and that sort of thing and then she was just too weak and we started staying in. . . I remember when she told me there were no more treatments at all and how awful that was.
In April of 2009, she was admitted to UAB for severe pain and was there for almost three weeks. I went every day. She even held my hand and told me when the doctor let her know that “it wouldn’t be much longer” – even though I already knew. She didn’t want me to be caught off guard, always worried about everybody else. ❤
When she passed away on May 1, 2009, it absolutely broke our hearts, especially for her husband, her daughter, and her mother. It was just horrible.
She is still missed so.
As she chose to have Ovarian Cancer Awareness pins worn for her memorial service and was passionate about research and prevention, I KNOW that she would want me to write about Ovarian Cancer Awareness, on this, the 10th Anniversary of her death.
From this graphic, I would emphasize that:
- Pap Smears DO NOT check for ovarian cancer (and many women mistakenly believe that they do).
- Ovarian Cancer is 10X more deadly than breast cancer. This is partially due to it being frequently detected at a later stage (3 or 4) and also because there are fewer treatments available at this time – but there is HOPE. Progress is being made!
- If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, it is definitely worth discussing genetic testing with your doctor. It is easily accessible now and important information to have.
It is also so important to know the warning signs of ovarian cancer. They are frequently subtle early on, as ovarian cancer has been called “the disease that whispers” so it’s definitely better safe than sorry:
- Bloating or an inflamed abdomen
- Unexplained increased abdominal size
- Urinary frequency, urgency, or difficulty
- Problems eating, such as feeling full soon after beginning eating
- Constipation, diarrhea
- Unexplained abdominal or back pain
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding or changes in menstruation
- Painful intercourse
These symptoms should be evaluated by your OB/GYN if you have ANY concerns.
Bear in mind that, while we tend to think of ovarian cancer as being rare:
Be mindful of changes in your body and support ovarian cancer research efforts in your area as well. New treatments are coming along often now and I am hopeful that we will see a cure for this horrible disease in our lifetimes.
Be well, everybody. Take care of yourselves and each other.
We miss you always, Andrea. ❤
Grace and Blessings.
what a beautiful tribute to your dear friend.