With almost 1,000 posts under my belt today’s is undoubtedly one of the most serious I have ever published. My friend Kathryn, who has appeared on the blog here, here, here, and here, is one of my dearest teammates from college and earlier this year, at only 24, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I could not be happier to let you all know that today she is 6-months cancer free! Yay! And in honor of this momentous occasion, Kat has a wonderful guest post for you:
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Hi Sparkles and Shoes readers! Kelly and I might live 1,500 miles from each other now, but thankfully we’re still able to keep in touch through social media, texting, and (to my dismay) group texts (sorry, Kel, but you know how I feel about group texts).
It was especially important to me to have such a supportive friend in Kelly when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer this past January. The most serious medical issue prior to my diagnosis was a sprained ankle, and I was forced to learn a lot about cancer, chemotherapy, and everything you could imagine (and a lot of things you couldn’t imagine) in a short period of time.
I’m convinced I could pass the MCAT now, but much more importantly, I learned a lot about myself and the “human side” of cancer. If you’ve ever had a friend or family member diagnosed with cancer, you know just how crazy and unpredictable the process is. If you haven’t, I want to give you an idea of what to do and what not to do in order to be as supportive as possible through all of the ups and downs!
DO: Pray, or send good vibes, or do whatever feels right for you.
I’m not religious, but I know a lot of people are. I don’t find a lot of comfort in praying for myself, but it meant a lot to me to hear from all the people who sent their prayers my way. The same was true for good vibes (and everything else), as well. It made me feel loved to know that so many people were thinking of me in a way that was so personal to them, and, of course, that they let me know they were doing so!
DON’T: Ask, “How are you feeling?”
It’s impossible to feel fine during this process, and (at least for me) hearing the same question several times daily from friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and the like was just a constant reminder that I was quite the opposite of “fine.” Instead, ask about something else. Anything else! Is this person working? What is she working on? Is she at home? What books has she been reading? Any funny texts or tweets or tumblr posts to share? Talking about other things goes a long way in getting a girl’s mind off of how “not fine” she is feeling.
DO: Know that each day will be different.
Sometimes during chemotherapy, I wanted anything but to be alone. Some days, I wanted to hide in my bed with my cat and communicate with nobody. Sometimes I was starving. Some days, I couldn’t even watch other people eat. Literally every day during cancer is a new and different adventure, and to be a supportive friend, you just need to let your friend be who she wants to be that day. If she doesn’t want to talk to you, it’s not you! Let her know you’re there when she changes her mind.
DON’T: Assume her experience is the same as your mom’s, or cousin’s, or coworker’s.
Just like every day is different, every person is different too. Personally, I hated being called brave and I hate being called a survivor. Some people love that, and that’s okay! One time I wanted to look up some side effects of my chemotherapy drugs, so I googled a list of them… there are HUNDREDS of chemotherapy drugs, all with their own strange side effects. Make sure you encourage open communication with your friend. What is helpful and encouraging to one person may be abhorrent to another. Understand what she does and does not want (which, of course, will change daily), and treat her as such.
(BONUS) DO: Know the signs of ovarian cancer!
The last thing I want to share with you all is the importance of staying in touch with your own body. Unlike breast cancer, there is not a way to screen for ovarian cancer, and there is no way to prevent it. However, there are things you can look for in order to catch it right away and get rid of it! Keep an eye out for the following signs, and see your doctor if you recognize them occurring almost daily for more than a few weeks.
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Frequent or urgent urination
If you want to learn more about my experience with cancer, a local magazine here in Fargo did a biography on me this month. One of the things they briefly cover in the article is my new tattoo! I’d always known I wanted a Harry Potter tattoo, but I could never decide what exactly I wanted.. after all, it would be on my body forever. As soon as I got my port–a device through which they administer chemo instead of an IV–I knew I would always have a scar there, and an idea clicked. After my first checkup after chemo, I got my “episkey” tattoo under my port scar. Episkey is the healing charm in the HP universe, so it seemed appropriate to me that the port and drugs that healed me would be immortalized that way. My parents don’t like it much, but I sure do! Check it out, and the rest of my story, here (it’s on page 30): Stride Magazine
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A huge thank you to my friend Kathryn for this wonderful guest post!
I hope you all know more about ovarian cancer and how to be a supportive friend!