Stowe Weekend of Hope – Young Cancer Survivors

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Hi Everyone! My name is Gabrielle and I am 30 years old. I am a Wife, Mom, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, Ice Hockey Player, Runner, Career Woman, and an Ovarian Cancer Survivor. I am here today to share my “cancer” story, how my life changed and how I overcame many obstacles along this journey.

On December 11th, 2015 my life changed and it was one of the best days of my life. On that day my daughter was born. It was the happiest day for my husband and I. What we didn’t know at the time, was that on that day a miracle happened to us in more ways than one.

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Pictured: Kathy McBeth – Board of Directors Stowe Weekend of Hope, and Gabrielle

Our daughter was born via emergency C-section after having complications during delivery. During the C-section a cyst was found on my ovary. It wasn’t until six weeks later that we got that dreadful call from the doctor asking for us to come in. To be honest I had completely forgotten about it, the doctors said it didn’t look like cancer and at the time and we were so caught up with our newborn daughter. So on January 21st we got the news that the cyst was cancer and that it was diagnosed as Ovarian Angiosarcoma. They told us that it was very rare and aggressive cancer and that they had an appointment for me the following morning at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

A lot goes through your mind when you hear something like that. I was a new mom holding a six week old baby in my arms. I had just gone from the highest moment in my life to one of the worst. My life had completely turned upside down and it wasn’t about me anymore it was all about her. My head began racing I was envisioning her crawling, walking, to her saying “Momma”, to her prom and wedding day.

The emotions weren’t going away, what came next was one of the hardest things I had to do. I had to share the news with my parents and family. It wasn’t just about the diagnosis, we suddenly needed help;we had a 6 week old baby at home. Asking for help doesn’t come naturally for me. So began to me the dreadful process of asking for help and telling the people who are really important to me that our lives were about to change. I say “our” because this diagnosis wasn’t just about me it was about the people that surround me,their lives were changing too.

When my brother found out about my diagnosis he said the best thing to me and that was there was “hope.” I had never thought about life that way that way and he was right. The word “hope” means so much. We get a diagnosis like this and the first thing that comes to your mind is what if I don’t beat this. However, life was giving me the opportunity.

We don’t like talking about dying. When I was younger I always thought if I was going to die, that I would want it to be quick. When you become a Mom that changes, you want more than anything to be there for your child.

Once again after two days of doctor’s appointments and scans my emotions were at another level, I got the best news! There were no signs of cancer from the scans. My doctor still felt that it was necessary to remove one of my ovaries. Three weeks later I went in for surgery, I was in and out in one day. My family and friends all showed up and helped. They rallied behind us and pitched in from cleaning our house, doing our laundry, delivering food and taking care of our daughter. The most challenging thing emotionally at the time for me was that I couldn’t hold my daughter for about a week. It was difficult for her and it was difficult for me. Now I realize that it was minimal. At the time it felt like the hardest thing emotionally. She wanted her Mommy and I couldn’t be there.

I cherish and enjoy every minute I spend with her, being a Mom has been the greatest gift of all. One day I will share my story with her and everything we went through as a family. I will share with her how she saved my life, how being her Mom is the greatest thing I could ever imagine.

After the surgery everyone’s life went back to normal, except for me or at least that’s what it seemed like to me. We didn’t need the help, and I was cancer free. However, as the patient there is one last step that you personally have to deal with and that is the emotional part of it. I had to accept that yes I was now part of a group that nobody wants to be part of.

I went back to work after a 15 week maternity leave. To my co-workers they just thought I was on maternity leave, only a few people at work knew what had happened. On my first day of work I needed to share what had happened to me. I sat in the conference room in front of all my co-workers and explained them that what my family and I had been going through for the past month. The problem was at the time I didn’t want to talk about what I went through and I made it clear to my colleagues, family and friends. On the outside my life went right back to normal but inside it didn’t feel that way. My family and friends couldn’t relate to the feelings I felt. I had gone through a roller coaster in a matter of one month.

The reality is that I really needed to talk out loud about my diagnosis and what I went through in order to recover from it. Cancer doesn’t just affect us physically it hits us emotionally too. I struggled with how to do this, I needed my family and friends to understand how I was feeling without having an awkward conversations.

So I began writing a blog. I began writing every time I was frustrated and overwhelmed and when I was finally comfortable I shared it will all my friends and family. As Winnie the Pooh said “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.

I use the blog to share how I am feeling and what I am going through. This blog is my outlet,when I write I feel like a weight has been lifted off my chest. One of the hardest challenges I find is that by looking at me you wouldn’t know that a year and half ago I was diagnosed with cancer.

Right before Christmas this year I went out to dinner for a work event and was hit with a challenge. I wrote about it in my blog, which went on onto say:

“Tonight I went out to dinner. The person next to me just met for the very first time. This person doesn’t know me and would have no reason to know my “cancer” story. As I sat there he began talking about how he had just attended a fundraising event to help children with cancer. He went to say how we can never imagine what these people went through. In my head I just wanted to yell out “I DO KNOW!” My heart starts racing and I realizing I am holding my breath because I feel like everyone at my table is watching me. A lot is going through my head, “I do know what you’re talking about!” “That was me only eleven months ago, can we please change the subject?” I am dealing with it now as I approach my one year diagnosis date and one month later my scans.

I know I won’t bring up my story so I stay silent and just continue nodding my head. I don’t want to ruin the mood with my story. I don’t want to make that person feel guilty or uncomfortable. So I will continue to sit there and just nod my head. I will pretend like I am like everyone else at the table just living our normal lives; hiding my cancer scars behind my shirt. Tonight the invisibility is a curse, it will continue to bother me and bring up memories for me. I will be the one that will see this feeling awkward and uncomfortable.

This diagnosis changed my life forever and I hate it for that. My life will never be the way it was before. I have to continue to live my life with (this) diagnosis. Every so often there will be days like this one where it gets turned upside down.”

I shared what I went through because I was frustrated at the time, and to me I didn’t think any of my family and friends would understand what I was going through. By writing this and sharing it with them they had the opportunity to know how I was feeling and how to be there for me.

It was around this time that I began to also deal with the fact that I was coming up on my scans. I was about a few months away from my first set.

One of the hardest challenges I faced was waiting.  My doctors recommend waiting a year before doing my first set of scan post-surgery. A year is a long time to wait for something like this. As the date approached and by approaching I mean months away I began to feel the stress and anxiousness associated with it. It’s been referred to me as “scanitice”.

During that year I felt like my life was on hold until those scans happened. I had fears of what might happen to me, what will they show, did we miss something? I felt like I didn’t want to plan anything for the future, I didn’t want to leave a burden on my husband if something went wrong. I didn’t want to think about having more children because what if they told me I couldn’t have more children. I began writing those feelings and sharing them out loud. I found by writing that my friends and family could relate to me and could easily have conversations about what I was going through. I didn’t feel so alone through this process.

Even being diagnosed with cancer I still find it difficult to relate to others who have been diagnosed. We all fight battles differently and we all need support in different ways.

I am thankful my results came back great, there were no signs of cancer and I was told that I could have more children in my future.

I have continued on with my blog since my all clear in February, it will sometimes be about my diagnosis as that will never go away. My blog does have a new shift to it as it’s focusing on some amazing things I am doing. I’ve started new chapters in my life that I never imagined I would be doing, I have begun training for a relay team in Vermont City Marathon, organizing my Dragon Boat team “Soaring On” and including me speaking tonight to all of you.

I know I am not alone in this journey I have an amazing support team as many of you are here today, including biggest supporter and love of my life, my Husband.  I have a great group of family of friends that I am thankful to have part of my life. My journey will continue and I am only at the beginning of this thing called life.

 

Stowe Weekend of Hope – Speaker

I’ve been asked to speak at the Stowe Weekend of Hope in a month. I will be speaking Friday, May 5th at 7:30pm. I will be part of the Young Survivor’s Panel Discussion. The speech is very similar to the one I gave at UVM Conference this past Fall. I plan to share my story and explain how I’ve managed to deal with my life events. This is my first year attending the Stowe Weekend of Hope. I am really looking forward to attending. It is nice to be around other individuals who understand what its like to receive a diagnosis. Everyone’s story is different and unique and we all have coping mechanisms.

I look forward to sharing my story I hope it helps someone else as much as it helps me to share my story out loud. Look for a future posts!