Pay It Forward

PaigeI made a pact with God (and I’m not even religious).  If I were to somehow survive this cancer, I would pay it forward.  I would take time to help others, mentor, speak, fundraise and do whatever I could to give other women with cancer hope.  The same hope that I so desperately wanted, but didn’t seem to have.  So here I am, sharing my story with you.

It began the summer of 2008.  I was thrilled to have started a new job across the country outside of Raleigh for a company that I love.  My husband, 2 dogs, cat and I were starting life fresh in a new town after a very stressful time personally and professionally.

My new workplace required an annual wellness exam for every employee. Since I was new, mine was due in the first 90 days after starting work.  It was there that my GP saw something wasn’t quite right with my GYN exam.  So she referred me to get a transvaginal ultrasound.  This revealed several quite large cysts in my uterus.  I learned about my various options for treatment and ultimately decided to have a hysterectomy because my mom survived early stage cervical cancer at a young age and I’d had a history of abnormal paps in the past.  We had no plans for children.  I was 38.

In order to time the surgery well and limit my time off from my new job, I planned to do it at the end of December.  Meanwhile, I started to notice pinkish tinge stains in my panties between periods.  I called the surgeon who planned to do my operation and she called me in to check.  She didn’t find anything, and chalked it up to the fibroids. This was September.

We decided to try Lupron shots to temporarily stop my hormones in hopes of shrinking the fibroids prior to surgery.  This should allow the surgeon to do tiny laparoscopic incisions instead of a wide abdominal one.  December rolled around, and the surgery went well, however, I was told in the recovery room that she had converted to an abdominal incision, because the fibroids didn’t shrink.

My mom had traveled out to care for me as my husband travels weekly for work. I was scheduled for a follow-up visit with my surgeon 10 days after surgery.  She called me on day 5, and asked me to come in.  “Something’s wrong,” I told my mom. “She wouldn’t have asked me to come in early, and bring my husband otherwise.”  Turns out I was right.

Then came the infamous words, “You have cancer,” she said.

Diagnosed with the rarest of the rare, especially at my age, I was told I have Grade 3, Stage IVB, Large Cell Poorly Differentiated Neuroendocrine Carcinoma – Endometrial Cancer.  It had invaded more than 60% of my uterine wall and spread to near and distant lymph nodes.  Prognosis was poor.  There was little literature on the cancer because of it’s rarity. Most of its victims live less than 2 years.

Over the course of my treatment I lost one aunt, one uncle and my cat to cancer.  Farrah Fawcett died.  Patrick Swayze died. And countless others, high profile and not, were diagnosed.

Fast forward to 2013.  After 13 months of chemo, 2 more surgeries, and a whole lot of soul searching for answers and hope, I am still here.  Three years cancer free.  Not because the 8 expert doctors I had consulted with across the country (and in Sweden) told me I could survive, because they didn’t.  Not because of family, (largely absent) friends or caring co-workers. Not because of the hundreds of friends, family, co-workers and strangers who prayed for me. Not because of my female cancer peers, most of which were older than me, or younger with a less serious diganosis.

I guess somehow I just refused to accept my foregone fate. I clung desperately to a little tiny shred of hope. I am too young.  With too much life to live and love to give. I haven’t made my stamp on this earth, and left my legacy…yet. So I made a pact.  I kept my promise.  And here I am.

To all my sisters out there with cancer – Never give up hope.

I  am  here.

-Paige Donnelly

Do you have a story to share? Email survivorship@foundationforwomenscancer.org.

Spotlight

Visit the Sisterhood of Survivorship page to read “Dena’s Story” — by a vulvar cancer survivor who has shared her story and wise words, and channeled her energy into her National Race to End Women’s Cancer team.

Awareness

Vaccine efficacy against vulvar infection with HPV 16/18 was comparable to the efficacy found against cervical infection 4 years after vaccination, according to researchers with the National Cancer Institute.

Research

The Foundation has published its 2014-2015 Research Grants and Awards Booklet with Applications. Please consider applying to become part of an elite group of physician-scientists committed to the well-being of women at risk for/affected by gyn malignancies.

Education

The next Ovarian Cancer Survivors Course will be Saturday, July 26, 2014 in Boston. For more information on courses, click here.