“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” -Carl Sagan
Nora McMahon was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on March 17, 2015. She has successfully defeated her disease. She is helping others and runs the website “cancergrad”.
“March 17, 2015 (St. Paddy’s Day- lucky me) was my official diagnosis (in surgery)”
“After several months of persistent bloating in my lower abdomen, weight loss, loss of appetite, frequent and urgent needs to pee and constant exhaustion, I made an appointment with my PCP. She examined me and ended up fast tracking me to get an ultrasound, and eventually a CT Scan, as well as referring me to a gyn-oncologist. At my initial consultation, my gyn oncologist reviewed my CT Scan image, which showed a giant mass that had grown in my lower abdomen. He told me that he suspected that it was ovarian cancer and scheduled me for a hysterectomy/oophorectomy and de-bulking surgery.
During my 8 hour surgery, my gyn-oncologist confirmed his suspicion and staged me at 1c3 ovarian cancer- he removed my reproductive system as well as two tumors- one the size of a grapefruit and one the size of a volleyball. Both of my ovaries were cancerous, one ovary had one type of cancer, the other had a different type of ovarian cancer.
Following my surgery, I went through 4 months of aggressive chemotherapy.”
Motivation to fight cancer
“I don’t like to think of my cancer journey as a “fight”, but more as a set of circumstances to try to overcome in whichever ways I saw fitting. Not every person who is diagnosed with cancer gets to “beat” it. The fight narrative insinuates that if patients “fight” hard enough they get to “win” their “battle”. I don’t know of one person who has died from their diagnosis that hasn’t done their best to become a person who heard that they were in remission.
My motivations were the many people that I love, as well as my lofty dreams and goals. The idea that I might not get to experience the many things that I’d like to really unsettled me. No one likes to think about their impending mortality, but it became an enormous motivation for me to get clear on what I want in my short time on this earth.”
“I’m very fortunate in that I had access to exceptional care and had doctors that listened to me and took me seriously. Outside of that, my prior insurance company (BCBS of IL) tried to eliminate my insurance plan through a loop hole in the system less than a month after I finished chemo. They dropped all of the network hospitals within a 50 mile radius of my care team. I was locked into a plan with a high monthly premium and that had dropped my entire care team (meaning I’d have to pay 100% out of pocket), or find an entirely new care team over 50 miles away from where I lived. I ended up moving out of state, and found an excellent care team (and a new insurance company) where I reside now.”
Message to other cancer patients
“Be body aware. Ask lots of questions. Find a care team that listens to you. Find a cancer community to connect with- cancer can feel incredibly isolating. Protect your peace- create boundaries from the people that drain you. Focus on what you can do, not what you cannot. Be kind to yourself. Honor your emotions, and know that you can still find moments of joy even in the worst times of your life. Delegate tasks for people who want to help, and allow yourself to receive/ask for help (I’m still learning this one!). Understand that grief is not linear.
Above all, know that you are not the sum of your parts, your hair or your body. Your spirit is something far greater.”