My cancer journey was one that seemed both extremely long and extremely quick. It all happened in what seemed to me like the blink of an eye; one day I couldn’t walk because of sudden, severe pain, and now I’m sitting in this chair with three inches of hair trying to figure out how to put this all into words.
I was on vacation in Coeur d’Alene visiting a dear friend of mine from college when I started noticing a sharp pain in my bladder. It hurt to the touch, burned when I peed and got worse as the days went on. I decided to drive myself to the E.R. after I physically had to stop walking because of the pain. I assumed I had a UTI after reading about the symptoms online, although the urine came back negative for any traces of one. They gave me some pain killers and sent me on my way.
After two weeks back at home with these continued pains, I decided to visit my new physician, Nina. I had been putting off going to her for months because of the dread that accompanies going to a new doctor; I have to talk about all of my medical history all over again, I have to get acquainted with a stranger on an extremely personal level, and will this stranger even believe me? At this point I had started to notice that I was bloated, and I had suspected that this pain had to do with my ovaries, as I had had a Laparoscopy for ovarian cysts 10 years prior. Nina took me seriously from the moment I walked in the door. She gave me a pelvic exam that day and had me schedule an ultrasound for that Friday, October 4th, 2019.
The ultrasound was both external and internal, as they often are with ovarian problems. After getting dressed, the sonographer stepped out after saying she was running to pass on the results to the person that could better read them. I waited in that room for 30 minutes before a phone rang across from me. The same woman peeked her head in the door and told me that it was Nina calling for me, and I immediately felt my heart sink. Nina informed me that there’s a dark mass on top of my right ovary, about 6 cm in size. She told me that it’s likely cancerous.
Three days later I’m in Weiya Wysham’s office, a gynecological oncologist that Nina insisted was the best in the state. My step-mom, Steph, and I met Weiya and immediately liked her because of her charming, yet no-B.S. attitude. She confirmed the bad news, and explained that the mass on my ovary was growing at a rapid rate, and I would need to have the same surgery that I had had at 16. On October 16th, they found that the cyst had grown to 18cm within 9 days and made the call to take out my entire right ovary and fallopian tube, which I had consented to if an oophorectomy was required, before surgery.
I woke up in the recovery room in sheer panic because of the pain I was experiencing; I looked down to see nurses cleaning up my stomach, and noticed bandages connecting from my bikini line (just above my other scar) to my belly button. I remember starting to sob before the nurses sedated me - this happened three more times before I finally woke up and was able to understand what had occurred.
My family was surrounding me, and Dr. Wysham came in with a huge smile to tell me that they got it: 99% sure there was no cancer. I spent three days in the hospital before I was able to go home. The pain was awful, but I chose to stop taking my Oxycodone and Norco a few days after being home after worrying I would become too reliant on them and I hated how they made me feel mentally. I walked every day and was able to go about a mile after a week and a half of being home. I was pushing to heal and move on with my life, like this was a bump in the road.
On November 12th, I went in the morning to have another CT scan and meet Dr. Wysham later in the day. This was the day that we never wanted to happen, a day that I had worried would come. Dr, Wysham informed me that I had a very rare form of ovarian cancer, called an immature ovarian teratoma. To put in perspective the rarity of this tumor, approximately 1.2% of women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 1% of those patients have immature teratomas. I’ve been able to find a total of 26 cases on the internet. I needed to start chemo the following week, for the next 9 weeks.
On November 18th, I started my 9-week regimen:
Week 1, 4, & 7
- Monday: Bleomycin, Cisplatin, & Etoposide (6-hours)
- Tuesday: Cisplatin & Etoposide (4-hours)
- Wednesday: Cisplatin & Etoposide (4-hours)
- Thursday: Cisplatin & Etoposide (4-hours)
- Friday: Cisplatin & Etoposide (4-hours)
Week 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, & 9
- Monday: Bleomycin (45 min)
Here’s what I can say about those 9 weeks: I had a total of 21 chemotherapy treatments. I had chemotherapy-induced neutropenia and thrombocytopenia because my insurance refused to see me as a person, and instead just saw me as a number. I shaved my head with my best friend in a photo studio full of people. I was jacked up on steroids and gained 20 lbs. I was tired most of the time. I had horrible constipation. I took 13 pills every morning and felt extreme anxiety every Monday when I had to get my port accessed. I made some wonderful friends and had an incredible team of all-women behind me. My family and my friends stepped up to the plate in so many ways that I couldn’t even begin to describe my gratitude for. I never once got sick and I am so unbelievably lucky for that.
During my treatment, I received a lot of thoughtful gifts, including a Fighting Pretty Package from my aunt Sally. It felt empowering to read about the organization and Kara, the woman who founded it. Seeing someone get sick and come out the other side even stronger than before was extremely inspirational for me, and I hoped to follow in her footsteps. To me, Fighting Pretty didn’t mean wearing makeup or looking pretty, but acting pretty by taking each step with pride, grace and positivity.
On January 27th of 2020, Dr. Wysham gave Steph and me the surprising news that I was officially cancer-free. We looked at each other and started to cry, the first cry in the past 9 weeks. I realized that I had been spending my time in treatment trying to be a positive beacon for the people around me. I chose to laugh and get to know my doctors and my nurses and the patients sitting two feet away in the same, giant blue chair attached to tubes feeding them their own special poison. I also realized that I never gave myself the time to feel any of the heaviness on my shoulders because I didn’t want it to burden anyone else. It was strange how hard that hit me in the following hours, and how amazing it was that my brain could protect me like that. At 6pm that night I booked a flight to Barcelona to travel around Spain for 3 weeks; I left on February 1st and had some of the most memorable experiences of my life, and I started the groundwork on how to love myself again.
Just 11 months after this all began, here I am with my new insanely thick and curly 3-inches of hair trying to figure out how I can use my experience to help others. I'll start by hanging with friends, living life and even drinking some wine...
I know, this is just the beginning to sharing inspiration, so here we go!
About Meg Nanna
Meg Nanna is a photographer based in Portland, Oregon.
Meg has been Fighting Pretty since 2019 and joined the Fighting Pretty team in October 2020 as a social media manager to help share her strength and inspire women "Fighting Pretty" all over the world.