I am Jody Feipel, from the small but mighty town of Walcott, Iowa, located in the Quad City Area. Currently, I live in Des Moines where I will pursue a BS in Nursing at Mercy College in September 2014. I am absolutely blessed with the most amazing friends and family a young woman could ask for. They have been there for me through the best and worst days of my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their help, criticism (sometimes) and love. I am 23 years old and I AM CANCER FREE!
In October 2013, I was working 50 hours a week and living at home while I waited to be accepted into nursing school. A recent graduate of Iowa State University, I looked forward to where life would take me. I never dreamed this was where my road would go.
I began having pain with urination that lasted for more than three weeks, so I visited my family doctor. He said I had a urinary tract infection (UTI) and prescribed an antibiotic. I was still in pain after finishing the antibiotic, so I called my doctor and got another prescription. I drank lots of fluids but the pain persisted. I called the doctor’s office again and dropped off another urine sample that showed I still had a UTI. I was prescribed another antibiotic and told to come back if it persisted. By now I had pain on my upper right abdomen towards my back, in the area of my kidney, and I was tired of taking medication.
It was now January 2014 and I was ready to feel great in the new year. I decided to see a specialist to figure out what was going on. I consulted a urologist who said if my pain continued after I finished another stronger antibiotic, I should come back. A few weeks later, still in pain, I had a CT Scan and received a call a few hours later that I needed to go back to the urologist’s office, and that I should bring someone with me to discuss my results. My Dad and I ventured to the office, where I learned there was a spot on my ovary. Although I don’t remember a lot of the conversation, all I heard was I had a very large tumor on my right ovary and it was possibly cancer. She also said that the radiologist recommended I go to a gynecological oncologist.
Obviously, this conversation changed my life forever. I am so grateful that my father was by my side and able to comfort me after hearing I probably had cancer. It is definitely a conversation I hope to never have again. I cried for about five minutes and then said, “Okay, what next? What doctor are we going to? Can we go tonight?”
Having a degree in kinesiology I know that cancer can spread fast and it wasn’t going to be easy.
Thankfully, my father broke the news to my mother. After I calmed down and cleared my head, I called my siblings and close friends. It isn’t easy to tell people you have cancer, especially since I had no idea if or how much it had spread. I won’t sugar coat it because it was very difficult. I was referred to a gynecological oncologist at the University of Iowa but the appointment was three weeks away. My parents and I got on the phone with different doctors to see where else I could go to be treated. All of them said to wait the three weeks because the doctor I was scheduled to see was the best in the Midwest.
In the meantime, my mother and I went to a gynecologist in my area to learn more about ovarian cancer. She performed an exam and transvaginal ultrasound and confirmed that the gynecological oncologist at Univ. of Iowa would be able to help me the most.
Luckily, there was a cancellation five days after my CT scan. We met with the GYN/ONC who was very surprised I was a healthy 22-year old with no family history of ovarian cancer – with a 12 centimeter mass. He explained the different types of ovarian cancer and success rates. He put me on his surgery schedule for three days later because whatever it was it needed to come out. The pathologist would have to check the tumor to learn more.
He then performed a pelvic/rectal exam to feel the mass as well as another transvaginal ultrasound. I went to do some other pre-surgery things and came back to his office later in the day. My doctor walked in and said that he was not expecting what the ultrasound showed. He was concerned about the mass in my right ovary, but now also my left ovary as well as my uterus. My CA 125, a marker in blood to determine if ovarian cancer is present, is supposed to be less than 35; it was over 7,000. He explained that it could be two different types of cancer and we would know more after the surgery.
Then came the worst part for me. At 22 years old, fresh out of college with the whole world ahead of me, I had to give consent to remove both my ovaries, possibly my uterus, any other affected areas and possibly have a chemo port put in my abdomen. It was extremely scary to wrap my head around the idea that I will never be able to reproduce. It was a very emotional day for my family and me. It was hard to imagine removing both my ovaries. I had to look at it as another bump in the road and that I needed to be strong to get through surgery.
I will be honest and say that I cried HARD for a few hours after hearing this from my doctor. He had no idea what he was going to see when he opened me up, which absolutely terrified me. I could wake up with a port in and starting chemo or possibly with one ovary. That conversation left me with my head spinning and lots of unanswered questions. After I filled a river with tears, I strapped on my big girl pants and started mentally preparing for a massive surgery to take place a few days later. It wasn’t going to help anyone to be so upset about something I couldn’t control.
I am truly happy and grateful to say that surgery went extremely well but I did end up losing both of my ovaries, omentum and some lymph nodes. I do still have my uterus, which could be used with an egg donation when the right time comes. I also had a few nodules removed from my rectum, abdomen, and other places on my intestines. The pathology confirmed that it was Borderline Ovarian Cancer. My surgeon successfully removed all areas of cancer, and thus I did not need to do chemotherapy or radiation. Now, that deserved a big celebration!
The road after surgery was not easy, especially with a 10-inch incision from my belly button to my pubic bone. I also had 26 shiny staples holding me together. I had to learn how to sit, stand, eat, walk and sleep differently. Seriously, no one knows how much you use your abs for just sitting in a chair. It was interesting to learn how to use my body again.
I was out of work for eight weeks when I found out I had to have surgery again to remove a cyst on my tailbone, due to sitting and recovering from my cancer surgery. Learning this was extremely difficult. I had just started to feel “normal” again and did not want to have another surgery, but I had no choice but to fix the issue. Thankfully, this surgery was less intense and went smoothly. It was just another small bump in my crazy road.
We are still trying to figure out why I developed ovarian cancer in the first place. I have no personal history of any other health issues, no family history of breast or colon cancer, and I am not in the typical age range of women that this affects. I will be doing genetic testing to determine if I am a carrier of the gene that is associated with ovarian and breast cancer. We will see what comes of that and go from there.
I am one of the lucky ones, one of the few ovarian cancer survivors who actually get cured. The numbers for ovarian cancer survival are absolutely depressing to learn. It is such a deadly disease that most women are back in the hospital after surgery doing chemotherapy treatments.
Being cured means you are part of a very small group in the ovarian cancer world. I am able to go out and share my story and spread awareness to other women because I am healthy. I am here on behalf of the women who are still fighting. The only way to make this terrible thing go away is to raise funds for research and educate women about the signs and symptoms.
Currently, one of the scariest things for me is the future unknown. I have no idea where the road will take me next. I never thought I would be here today sharing this roller coaster of a story, but that is part of the beauty of life. I have always been a positive person, have always kept a smile on my face. Life is too short to worry about small details that don’t matter in the real world. It is about living and loving.
I know I will have more challenging times ahead, but I’ve been through cancer; I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. Cancer may have taken my ovaries but all it left was a 10-inch scar. My drive, faith, and spirit are still in me. I will continue to have checkups every three months but my doctor said he thinks I will live a long healthy and cancer-free life, which I intend to live to the fullest.