As you can tell from the title of this post. September is ovarian cancer awareness month. This is very dear to my heart as my mom had ovarian cancer. She died less than a few years after she was diagnosed.
It is often called the silent killer because there are no real symptoms and a pelvic exam doesn't always detect it. Early symptoms can be bloating, pelvic/abdominal pain, difficulty with eating or feeling full too soon.
My mom knew something was wrong. She knew that the weight she was gaining wasn't just that. She was bloating. She went to one doctor, who told her nothing was wrong, that she was just going through menopause. He was wrong. By the time, she finally went to another doctor for a second opinion. She was carrying a tumor that was the size of a 6 month utero baby. The removed everything she had there. But it was Stage 4 cancer by that time. She underwent chemo that caused all her hair to fall out, and she had to wear a wig that itched and she hated. But she wore it for me, in her mind I would have been embarrassed by her bald head.
She kept on going though. Working, taking me to school, going in and taking her chemo, which at that time required an overnight stay at the hospital. It was those times that she didn't allow me to visit her. She didn't want me to see her like that.
Hunched over a bedpan, sick as a dog, unable to eat, her hair falling out by the handfulls. She just wanted my childhood to go on, with me not having a clue as to how sick she really was. She never sat down and talked with me about her cancer. She would just tell me that everything was okay. And even being a young teen, I believed her. She had never lied to me before. She didn't want me to have to worry.
Her mother had moved in with us several years before and was by the time the above picture was taken was bedridden and on hospice. My mom would sleep in the extra bed in her mother's room, getting up to help her mother to the bathroom, cleaning her up when she didn't make it. Her mother was beginning to show the early signs of dementia. Often talking about a little boy standing in the corner of her room, smiling at her. Finally in June of 1991, her mother slipped away from this world and onto the next.
By this time, the doctors had given my mother the all clear, she was in remission. They still wanted her to continue her radiation. She took a few treatments, but they made her so tired and sick that she refused to take anymore. Her hair had grown back and instead of being the dark brown that it was naturally, it came back snow white and curly.
I was a freshman in high school now and getting ready to get my license. I was growing up, slipping away and I know that it bothered her that often she couldn't do more with me.
The above picture was taken in June of 1991. She looked healthy, she was doing more now. Things seemed to be getting back to normal. I turned 15 that September and got my driver's license. She was still my over-protective mom though. She wouldn't let me drive alone, but she would always let me drive her to Wal-Mart or to a check-up.
Why is it you can remember some days as clear as if they just happened, but after that everything is a complete void. Like someone has suddenly cut out parts of your life, and you can only see them in small clips.
I can remember that day down to the T. I remember what I was wearing. An outfit my mom had bought me.
A maroon, white and navy striped shirt from the Gap, a pair of Gerbeau jeans, and a pair of dexters.
I was in Chemistry class taking a quiz when the headmaster came in. I swear for some reason I knew she was there for me. Something in my heart lurched when I saw her. But I didn't know it was for that.
She tried to make small talk with me as we walked from the Senior High building to the Jr High building, but I was too nervous to do anything more than say 'yes maim" back to her. But when I saw my brother standing in the office. I just knew, I just knew this was bad. Very very bad.
He was standing there in my private prep school, wearing a ratty t-shirt, his torn blue jeans, and his barn boots, the pants legs of the jeans half tucked in, half out, as if he had thrown them on in such a hurry that it didn't matter.
I remember one of the secretaries asking if he wanted to use one of the rooms in the back. He had shook his head and just clutched me so tight I couldn't breathe. As we walked out, I noticed that he hadn't driven to the school, his good friend had driven him.
When we got in, he just held on to me. And then said. "Momma's gone, sis."
I remember saying, "Huh?" It just didn't compute with me. How could she be gone? I had just kissed her good-bye that morning, less than 3 hours before. She had a cold, which was common for all of us once fall started to set in.
"She's gone. Momma died." He was crying and I couldn't move. I couldn't function. My mind had gone to shut down mode. I don't even remember crying at that moment.
By the time we got home, they had already taken her to the morgue, I guess. My dad was gone too. I think that maybe my mom's brother had come and her sister. But I really don't remember.
I just remember going to look for her. But she wasn't there. I just wanted to be alone then. But no one would let me. My sister-in-law's friend took me and my best friend to get pizza. Then my cousin took me to the football game that night.
It started to sink in once people there started coming up to me and saying how sorry they were. I didn't know what to say. I would just nod. Everything after that point is a blur, the missing movie clips to my life. Maybe they are right when they say that the brain has a way of shutting down when faced with something too traumatic for the body to deal with.
I guess the point I am trying to make with telling the story of my mom and her battle with ovarian cancer is that you need to take care of yourself. My mom was too busy taking care of everyone else to take care of her own health. She knew something was wrong. She even knew the days before she died that something wasn't right. She was bloating again for one. Instead of going to her oncologist, she went to her general practice doctor, who just told her she had a cold.
Her body had begun to retain fluid that spread to her lungs. She died of respiratory failure, due to fluid in her lungs.
Later I have found out more about her battle with cancer. My brother and father had begged her to talk to me about it. To tell me what was going on. But she didn't want to do that. She didn't want me to worry. I was still a child who didn't need to be burdened with that.
I really wish she had talked to me. Told me that she was tired of fighting this horrible beast called cancer and all of its side effects.
My mom was 2 months short of her 50th birthday. A lady who was born just a couple of weeks after Pearl Harbor was bombed. My mom was such a great person. She was a loving mom, who lived to make her children happy. She loved her family, her 2 brothers and 1 sister and all their children. If you had a problem, my mom was the one who would go through hell and high water to help you.
So ladies, please please keep up on your yearly visits. If something doesn't feel right tell you doctor. And keep telling them until they do something, And if they won't listen go to another doctor.
I keep thinking that if only she had gone sooner, her chance of survival would have been so much better. It would have been caught sooner. She would have been alive today to see all her grandchildren here on earth.
And if you are diagnosed, please talk to your children. Tell them what is going on.
To learn more about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and to donate to ovarian cancer research go here:
Me and my mom.
My mom's senior picture.
Helen Heath Hill
Dec. 20, 1941 - October 11, 1991