Shaline Das-Fitzgibbon - Ovarian Cancer
On the weekend of my 5th Wedding Anniversary I received my cancer diagnosis - stage 4 Ovarian Cancer (clear cell carcinoma with a ca 125 level of 3900) and a few years left to live. The moment the oncologist said these words she took my hope away. The pain I felt when I heard these words was indescribable and the days and weeks that followed were filled with despair. I have always been an optimist but I gave up and thought that I had to face reality. No cancer diagnosis can ever come at a good time, mine came at a very bad one. My husband is a dentist and was training to become a specialist and this could only be done in Dunedin so we had not spent much time together as a family. For the past 2 years he had been in Dunedin during the week and would fly home to Auckland for the weekends. I had spent my time working full time as a Global Marketing Manager and a single Mum during the week to our 3 year old son. I thought that my continual exhaustion was due to this situation. We felt that our lives were on hold until the 3 year course had finished, however when we received the cancer diagnosis we realized what putting your life on hold really means. Daniel came home one weekend from Dunedin and never went back.
Your life as you know it stops and a new one begins based on medical appointments, CT scans, blood tests, operations, chemo cycles, good & bad days physically, high and low days emotionally, losing your hair, etc and the ever present fear. I thought about all of my life plans and resigned to the fact that those plans would never become reality. The very worst part of my journey was the guilt that my son would have no mother, my husband would lose his wife, my sister would be without me and my parents would lose a child etc.
I can not remember exactly when my mind set changed, however I know that because the people around me would not let me give up and showed me they believed I could win against the odds - I began to believe it myself and today I feel positive and wonderful. Every card, gift, phone call, text message, email, visit, offer to cook or baby sit etc gave me encouragement, strength and meaning to help me cope with this disease and claim the life back that I thought I had lost. The written and spoken words are a treasured gift that I revisit often to keep getting me through this journey. As expected my husband was indescribably amazing and he managed to stay strong enough for the both of us. He kept pushing me to fight and would not give up, his insistence paid off and I too began to believe I could be an exception. This with the support of all the special people around me gave me the strength that I could not initially find on my own to fight with every ounce of energy that I could muster. The more energy I use to be positive, the more energy I seem to have to remain positive.
Next month it will be a year since my diagnosis and against the odds I ended my chemo in complete remission. I do not know how I got there but I believe that it’s a combination of the amazing surgeons, medical treatment, the way I chose to fight and the unknown forces. A cancer diagnosis is liked being drafted to a war that you didn’t enlist for. -you are not prepared and all of a sudden you have to find the strength in your body and your mind to fight while at the same time your soul has been damaged and the emotional pain is worse than you could have ever imagined possible. However it is possible to do this and come through feeling better than you ever have- I am living proof of this and that is why I have called my story pure celebration.
One of the most important things that I have learned on this cancer journey is that there are so many little things that are a daily celebration. The little treasures that life brings us everyday, for me this can be my son laughing, enjoying tasty food or watching the sunset and the list goes on –it’s a celebration to be here to enjoy these lovely experiences. I also make a conscious effort to do something for myself everyday, even if it’s as simple as having a bubble bath or five minutes reading a book. I make sure that I do these things and totally enjoy them. I find it inspiring to read about cancer patients that have beat the odds and survived in spite of their prognosis, it helps to keep me motivated and re-affirms my attitude that if they could do it then why can’t I. It takes daily dedication and hard work to feel so great, but it is totally worth it. My husband would say that it’s like training for a marathon, you just need to keep training to build up your stamina and then it will become more natural and that’s exactly how I see it. Because when you get into that positive mind space life feels so rewarding and enjoyable because you don’t worry about the future you enjoy today.
Believe me this does not mean that there are not times when I get down or feel scared, I have cried my fair share of tears and still need to at times. Occasionally I get sad and angry that I have to work so hard just to keep myself positive and alive, I sometimes fear that the doctors are right, and I can not count the number of times I wake up in the middle of the night scared and still coming to terms with the fact that I am a cancer patient. On those nights when I lie awake while it feels like everyone else is sleeping I re-read the survivors stories, I say my positive affirmations, I visualize my healthy body and focus on believing in my ability to beat the odds. These things help me remember that today I am here living and I love my life in spite of the cancer and every time I fall from that positive space it gets easier and easier to climb back in and feel wonderful again.
Although the medical diagnosis says that my type of cancer will definitely come back to take me away in a few years - I refuse to believe that. I choose to believe with all my heart that there are always exceptions and that I am one of them. Everything about my diagnosis has been rare, the average age for my type of cancer is 20 years older than I am, usually by the time the cancer reaches the final stages the tumors are remarkably large while mine was only 4 cm and did not appear to look like cancer and originally the oncologists thought it was endometriosis, therefore I choose to believe that the final outcome will be unusual too. I can not see how this can do harm because today I smile and laugh and truly enjoy my life. When I was first diagnosed I did not think I would ever have anything to smile about again and laughing seemed unimaginable. But I learned something very important, as cancer patients we are always wishing for more time instead of enjoying the time that we have now.
I recently took a holiday to Thailand with a group of very special people to celebrate the end of my chemo, if it was not for the cancer we would never have got around to taking that fantastic holiday together. I focus on these rewarding things that the cancer has given me rather than what it has taken from me and the amazing experiences that I have had on this journey. While in Thailand we partook in a run to raise money for children’s cancer, which is another new fulfilling experience.
Like every cancer journey mine is filled with a lot if uncertainty, but I believe it will have a positive outcome. What I do know for certain is that if people before me had not raised money for cancer I would not be alive today, so please give a donation to the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation. The founders, Jackie and Rachel have their own story of starting this foundation in their mother’s memory and I have nothing but admiration for 2 amazing women who are going to make such a difference in New Zealanders journey with gynaecological cancers. The reality is that funding is needed to enhance quality of life with the long term goal of ultimately saving lives.
Sadly, Shaline passed away 23 January 2010