The Power of Numbers
August 19, 2016
The numbers tell my story best. Which is ironic, because, after my diagnosis, I made a promise to myself to avoid the numbers at all costs. No googling “ovarian cancer”. No way. No numbers, not ever. But these days, I measure the world in numbers: the number of days between appointments, the fluctuating tumour markers, the blood test data, the surgery dates.
Maria (Left) with fellow Team Wookie member, Karen.
On the day of the 2016 Walk in Victoria, it will be 24 months since my diagnosis. That day in September 2014 when what was supposed to be routine surgery for fibroids became, instead, the first day of dealing with cancer - a shocking one-word response to nine months of abdominal pain, back ache and a wildly uncharacteristic lack of appetite. At the time, I was 41.
The ugly numbers:
- Two six-month rounds of chemotherapy.
- Two major abdominal surgeries.
- Four trips to emergency.
- Untold thousands - the cost of the targeted and other medications I take each month.
- Zero - what I knew about ovarian cancer and its symptoms before I was diagnosed.
The beautiful numbers:
- One rock solid husband.
- Two incredible step daughters.
- Two pairs of devoted parents and parents-in-law.
- Five amazing siblings and their families.
- One spectacularly loving Brittany spaniel.
- Countless acts of kindness and gestures of support from friends, neighbours and co-workers.
- One old, but newly teal, house where I take refuge and heal.
- And… 75, which was the turnout for my team, Team Wookie, at the 2015 Walk in Victoria.
The Wookie moniker is a play on my surname, and a lifelong nickname. It stuck, like a Wookie, those loyal united warriors. The kind of gentle giants you want beside you when the playground bullies arrive…
I remember the moment last year as the team gathered to walk. The Team Wookie sign held aloft, a growing throng of Wookies assembling behind it. More Wookies kept arriving, dwarfing the number I expected, astonishing me. Everyone wore a special brown bandolier; each one made by my unstoppable Mom, even a baby-size bandolier for a special friend’s new daughter.
Some of these Wookies I had known for years; others stepped further into my life at a time when I needed it most; still others were acquaintances that felt moved enough to walk after learning about my experience. I felt buoyed, grateful and very emotional.
Being treated for ovarian cancer can be a lonely, isolating and bewildering experience. I thought my treatment would follow a logical, linear path. A straight line. But it’s not like that. Treatment is not a predictable line, not even close. Treatment is a game of snakes and ladders.
People often ask us, “How I can help?” The answer: The Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope.
Every person going through this needs their own team of Wookies – people who will learn about this disease, and talk about it amongst their friends. People who are willing to speak up for more, much more, to be done. This is the only route to change.
Back to the numbers for a second. Because the numbers associated with ovarian cancer are unacceptable. This disease has been overlooked for far too long. There is a tremendous overdue opportunity to improve the outcomes and experiences of ovarian cancer patients, through consistent and fair access to drugs, reliable screening methods, research, and more treatment options. This change of numbers begins with one person; this one person can build a team.
The bottom line: the medical community wants to do more, must do more; governments must do better. We must do better for all women. Insist on it.
Despite the difficulties I face, I know I am fortunate: my Wookies are behind me as always, fighting for better outcomes, fighting for better numbers. Fighting for me and for women everywhere. Who could ask for more?
Yes, I am fortunate. The days when I feel flat and empty, I only have to think of my Wookies and I find hope.