Ovarian Cancer Grad-Jennifer
Name: Jennifer Kuder
Age at Enrollment: 23
Major: Stage 3 Ovarian Dysgerminoma
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis?
Although I brushed it off at the time, (“I’m young, I’m fine, there’s nothing wrong with me”) I can look back now and realize that I had changes to my menstrual cycle, bloating, frequent urination. I let myself be so involved in my job that I didn’t take care of myself, and I ignored all those symptoms. It wasn’t until I wasn’t able to do my job that I went to see a doctor.
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? I kept feeling light-headed and generally just not right, and didn’t have the energy to keep up at my job. I didn’t trust myself to be driving a tractor or riding horses when I was feeling lightheaded, and after this happened a couple times I started trying to get answers. I saw my family doctor first and had bloodwork drawn and an ekg, and then saw a rheumatologist because my bloodwork was pointing towards lupus or some other autoimmune disease. It took a couple of months of frequently seeing my family practice before a doctor actually did a thorough physical exam and palpated the mass. Less than a week later I was having surgery.
Courses completed: I started with surgery (right salphingoophorectomy, omentecomy, exploratory laporotomy), then had my port placed a couple weeks later. After that was chemo, 4 rounds of bleomycin, etoposide, and cisplatin. The first week of each cycle was inpatient, so I would be admitted Monday-Friday for daily treatments and hydration, then the following two weeks would be outpatient on Mondays only. Plus some extra trips to the hospital for neupogen shots.
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you you get through it/them? I think one of the hardest moments was watching my hair fall out. I had already cut it shorter and donated as much as I could, and I knew it was thinning, but it wasn’t until I was camping that I woke up one morning with enough hair to make a small animal on my pillow that it really sunk in. We got home the next day, and I went and grabbed my clippers that I used on my horse and shaved my own hair off. For me, taking charge of the situation and doing something to take control over what was happening to me helped.
Any helpful (tangible) tips or tricks you discovered for dealing with your symptoms and/or cancer? Advocate for yourself! If you are nauseous or not eating, don’t stop bothering your oncologist until you get an anti-emetic that works! If you have other symptoms, make sure you get help for them, too! And take advantage of what your cancer center has to offer for you, whether it is pet therapy, or art therapy, or support groups.
What did you know about ovarian cancer prior to your diagnosis? I’m not sure I knew anything about ovarian cancer before my diagnosis!
What do you wish more people knew or understood about Ovarian Cancer? I wish more people were aware that there is more than one type of ovarian cancer. The cancer I had behaved very differently than the cancer postmenopausal women get, and has very different outcomes. And yes, I can still have kids (definitely the most-asked question when I tell someone I had ovarian cancer). I also wish more people we aware of how important it is to advocate for your own health, not just for ovarian cancer or even any cancer, but for life in general.
How did your family and friends respond? Everyone for the most part put on a brave face, as did I. I think I lead by example by using humor to deal with the cancer, and I know I had tons of people who wanted to come see me and help me, even though there was nothing to do other than sit around and stare at me while I went through treatment.
How did/do you find joy during this experience? I used a lot of humor during the whole experience. Even before I knew the tumor was cancer, my friend and I had named it. (Her name was Marge, and she was large, and definitely in charge) I was in the hospital the week before halloween for chemo, and paraded up and down the halls in a clown wig and makeup. I’m pretty sure I told the nurses I was feeling a little funny that day. There was also a turkey hat for Thanksgiving, and after treatment was over a cake decorated to look like a tumor...not sure my friends and family loved eating that but I got a kick out of it.
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what was it? Although it took me a couple months to figure out, for me, cancer was a fresh start on life. I quit my job and went back to school, then moved 1,200 miles away from home to finish school and make a new life for myself. I really believe that everything happens for a reason, and for me cancer was the “push” to start living the life I was supposed to live. Exactly four years after my diagnosis, I started my new job as an RN, a career path that never would have been possible if I hadn’t seen firsthand what a difference great nurses can make when you are sick. Once I get comfortable in my new role as a nurse, I am going to get chemo certified so I can work as an oncology nurse. My goal in pursuing nursing was always to be an oncology nurse, and I am so excited to be on this path.