How I Decided What To Do With Cancer

Cancer gives you choices. Choices like: do I want to do what the doctor said? Do I want to go to a different doctor? Do I want to do half of what the doctor says? Do I want to live? How do I want to live if I survive?

I didn’t have to decide over life and death, thanks be to God. (Rest in peace, Joshua Q. Heller.) I had to decide what kind of life I wanted to have. 

I was 32 years old and I had Stage 1A ovarian cancer in my right ovary. The usual treatment for ovarian cancer was to remove both ovaries. 

I wanted more children. 

What didn’t I want? I didn’t want to go through menopause. I knew there were hormone treatments. I knew that I had two healthy children. These are the things that people who weren’t in my position were telling me. And this is where I’m coming from when I say when YOU have cancer YOU have choices.

When you’re working through those choices in the midst of preparing for treatment, well-meaning people want to know how you’re doing. When people hear that you’re thinking about not doing the “normal” thing they are a bit flabbergasted.

Why wouldn’t you do “X”? Why would you take a chance?

I remember telling my husband, Jamie, what I wanted. I wanted to keep my remaining ovary if it was healthy. That was the thing that brought me peace. He agreed that I should make a decision that brought me peace.

At one of my last appointments with my gynecological oncologist before the end of my pregnancy, I told the doctor that I wanted to keep my left ovary and fallopian tube if he felt that it looked healthy. While he didn’t understand my decision, he agreed to my desired course of treatment. Two months after Gianna was born I was to undergo an extensive abdominal surgery to see if there were any more signs of cancer. And if my right ovary looked healthy it was going to remain intact. 

When my mother heard of my plans, she told me I was being naive and selfish. As a medical professional with decades of experience in negative outcomes, she very much doubted my decision.

Someone suggested that she was afraid to lose her daughter and I didn’t understand. I reminded them of the surgery that I had that could’ve cost Gianna’s life a few weeks prior. 

I was not putting my head in the sand and acting like everything was normal. I had spent tremendous mental energy imagining my future or lack thereof. I imagined what it would be like to take blood tests and ultrasounds on a regular basis to monitor the health of my remaining ovary should it not be removed. 

I imagined what it would be like to submit to the surgery exactly as prescribed without considering my desires. I imagined having my ovary removed only to be found cancer free in a biopsy the following week. I knew that pointless loss wasn’t something I wanted to endure.

I thought about my motives. I doubted myself frequently. Was I being selfish? Was I opening us up to tragedy? Statically speaking, I engaged in the riskiest of behavior that most Americans do without thinking about twice: I drove a car on a regular basis. I could die and take my children with me! What was it about cancer that made everyone jettison any rationality about making a personal choice about treatment? 

Most women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer over the age of 50. Their relationship to their reproductive organs is in a different phase. And yet, I had a friend tell me about wanting to say goodbye to her uterus after a hysterectomy because it had brought her four beautiful children into this world. This made sense to me then and only continues to make sense to me the older I get. 

At the age of 32 I had choices about my future. I had choices thanks to cancer. 

Alishia Hanson1 Comment