I am one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason — so when I received a cancer diagnosis in December of 2009 my first thought was “for what purpose”? Why was I specifically selected to walk this path in life? While that answer has still not been fully revealed to me, I have found comfort and purpose in sharing my “medical adventure” so that perhaps others might become enlightened along the way.


I am one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason — so when I received a cancer diagnosis in December of 2009 my first thought was “for what purpose”? Why was I specifically selected to walk this path in life? While that answer has still not been fully revealed to me, I have found comfort and purpose in sharing my “medical adventure” so that perhaps others might become enlightened along the way.



In the year 2009, I was very busy — so busy in fact that I failed to notice certain changes taking place in my body. I was consumed with the fast paced life of a working mom of two teenagers —both involved in school and sports. At that time a cancer was growing in my body, but all the symptoms of everyday life completely masked the truth. I had no clue! The fatigue, bloating, anxiousness and abdominal pains that I felt could all be explained and attributed to my lifestyle and to the idea that I might be entering “menopause.” Every single symptom was written off and nothing seemed extraordinary.



At my sister’s insistence, saying that I was just not “myself,” I undertook a series of tests that year through my local health clinic here in town. The process started on Nov. 9, 2009, with a discussion with a young physician’s assistant. She recommended that we begin with a CT scan, which revealed fluid in my abdomen. She then ordered a trans-vaginal sonogram that revealed cysts in my ovaries and finally, an MRI led the radiologist to conclude that it was either endometriosis or ovarian cancer. On Friday, Nov. 20, 2009, the PA revealed all the evidence to me and asked how I would like to proceed. Having learned all of this on a Friday afternoon gave me a very long weekend of talking with relatives and searching on the Internet to determine what my next move would be. It was the week of Thanksgiving, and I was sure I would not get an appointment to see anyone quickly. On Monday morning, I picked up the telephone and called the Gynecological Oncology Department at Duke University Cancer Center and I was fortunate to get an appointment on Dec. 1, 2009.



I could not eat or drink. I worked in the morning, but by noon I was so tired that I had to head home to my couch where I slept the balance of the day. On Thanksgiving, I had about five bites to eat and had to lie down on the couch, with no energy and no desire to eat. By this time, I had started to collect a fair amount of fluid in my abdomen and was having difficulty breathing. I felt like I was 8 months pregnant and was dealing with pressure built up under my lungs.



I had my appointment at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009. I gave a lengthy personal history to one of the interns and talked briefly with the doctor, who conducted a pelvic exam. She called my husband and me into the exam room together and announced that she believed cancer was a possibility and, no matter what was wrong, she recommended a full hysterectomy. With our concurrence, she scheduled me for surgery in one week — on Dec. 8, 2009. She then began to discuss the “what if” of cancer and told us about chemotherapy treatments following surgery. She asked if I would be available to do all the pre-surgical testing that day and set up all the tests for me that day. It took from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for me to have all tests run and to have three liters of fluid drawn from my abdomen.



On Dec. 8, after a four-hour surgery including a full hysterectomy, I was diagnosed with stage III C ovarian cancer. I don’t recall the moment that this diagnosis was revealed to me or who told me or even being overwhelmed or even really comprehending it. I was in the hospital — recovering from surgery, but it did not seem to matter to me what the diagnosis was — I just knew that I had to recover, get strong and fight.



My husband, two children and my sister were devastated, and all they could do was to PUT THEIR TRUST COMPLETELY IN GOD AND IN THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY. I firmly believe that this disease is harder on them than on me because I had all the pain and recovery work to distract me from feeling the total despair of the situation. All they could do is sit by and watch and pray and hope and cheer.



I initially spent 12 days in the hospital and was released on Dec. 20 with instructions to return on Dec. 31 for my first round of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, I would have to return on the 26th because I had developed a plural effusion and fluid had built up between my lungs and rib cage, making it very difficult to breathe. After they drained 1.5 liters of fluid out, I felt much better. I was then told that the first of six chemotherapy treatments would start the next day. That left me the entire night alone to obsess over losing my hair. The pharmacist said there was no way by taking Paclitaxel and Carboplatin that I would be spared my hair. This was the one moment when I received my “wake up call” and where it got terribly personal. This is where I believe I suddenly realized just how much trouble I was in. For the first time, I cried over my diagnosis because in that moment I realized I would soon “look” like a cancer patient.



That chemo would be the first of many types that I would try, including a clinical trial. It turns out that I am chemo-resistant, meaning most of them don’t work on my cancer. We keep trying, and hoping and praying that something will work, or that something will keep me around long enough to find “the cure.” The entire experience has made me a better person. It has taught me to live in the moment and to constantly strive to make NOW the very best that it can be. I always felt that I should live that way but was never able to see my life on those terms until the cancer diagnosis. My community and my family have become the bedrock of my existence and I have never been so humbled in my life. So much was done for me — from personal visits, to financial assistance, to meals being brought in, to friends just being friends! I think my whole family has learned to appreciate the small things that abound us in the here and now.



My family, church, community and friends have been such a huge part of my healing. The support we received has been enormous, and it has taken every bit of that support to get me where I am today. I am so grateful for each and every person whom God has put in my path on this journey.



Facts about ovarian cancer:



 



Melinda Knoerzer, a Pender County Government employee, was diagnosed with Stage IIIC Ovarian Cancer on Dec. 8, 2009. Melinda’s is the first Survivor Story of the 2013 Relay Season.