‘She looks 7 months pregnant.’ Only 14, my stomach was so big and hard. I knew something wasn’t right.’: Woman candidly details battle with childhood ovarian cancer, infertility journey

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“Throughout a couple of Spring months back in 2006, I found my stomach getting bigger and harder. I always thought I was chubby, but after 15 pounds lost, my stomach never went down. One day I was at my friend’s pool and I was telling my friend and cousin this isn’t normal. ‘My stomach is so big and hard,’ I said. The way my stomach was sticking out and it looked like I was pregnant. That’s when I went home and told my mother, ‘Look this isn’t normal, even when I lay down my stomach just pokes out, and it’s so hard.’ I was only 14 years old.

At the time I didn’t think she was worried because she said, ‘You’re fine. I’ll call the doctor, but it’s probably nothing.’ Little did I know she was very worried, and took me to the doctor the next day. When I arrived, they took my mother aside and asked her if she was sure I wasn’t pregnant and she said she was 99% sure. He told her I looked about 7 months pregnant, and he had to do a pregnancy test. Obviously it came back negative, and that’s when he sent an order for me to get a CT done. When the CT tech saw what was on his screen, he ran to the radiologist’s office. Soon the doctor called my mother and said, ‘All your daughter’s organs are covered with a huge mass. You have to drive to Floating Hospital For Children tonight. She is going to have surgery in the morning.’ My mother just broke down, and had to pull herself together to drive an hour away to the hospital where I was being admitted.

Courtesy of Amanda Vieira

During the drive I was nervous, but thinking to myself as an immature 14-year-old does, I’m finally going to be skinny, not realizing the seriousness of all this. The next morning my parents and brother hugged and kissed me before I went in for surgery. My father and brother were always the jokesters of the family, so when I saw them crying and with such a worried look on their faces, I started to feel nervous and scared. That’s when it hit me: this was serious. While I went under, my entire family was in the waiting room. During the surgery they removed a 20-pound mass that was attached to my right ovary and right fallopian tube.

After being in the hospital for 2 weeks with a huge cut throughout my entire abdomen, I was sent home still waiting for the results of the mass they removed. The doctor told my mother he was 99% sure it was nothing and not to worry. About a week later, we got the call to go in and see the doctor; my mother new it couldn’t be good. When we got to his office, he said that in the center of the mass the lab found Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer. My mother broke down in his office. Thank God one of my aunts were there to help keep her together. That’s when he referred to me to my oncologist, Dr. Katie Wakeley.

Dr. Wakeley wanted to do another surgery for a biopsy of my other organs, so she had to cut me in the same exact incision. After that surgery, I was admitted to the hospital for 2 weeks again and we had to wait for the results of the biopsy that took about 3 weeks. My mother was going crazy at this time; she never left my side and she even took a year off of work to be there for me. She had to keep a lot of her emotions inside because she didn’t want to worry my father who was already battling multiple sclerosis. (If you know about the disease, you know any type of stress can make it worse.)

Courtesy of Amanda Vieira

Finally, the results came in from the biopsy and all my other organs were in good health. My mother was so relieved, until Dr. Wakeley told her I was going to need 3 rounds of chemo. My mother knew I was going to fight her about this because I would always say, ‘I’m not taking chemo and going bald my freshman year of high school.’ I obviously lost that battle. I lost all my hair within that first week. I felt so ugly and wasn’t myself at all. The kids at school were so cruel they would whisper to each other and try to touch my wig to see if it was a weave. That was the hardest year of my life; thank god I had a great family and a wonderful best friend that were always there for me.

Courtesy of Amanda Vieira

A couple of years later, during my junior year, I met the love of my life Cory. He made me feel beautiful and back to my old happy self. We were young and in love, and just like every young romance, you just want to enjoy each other and be free. Then one day 8 years later, he planned a getaway with my cousin. She called me and told me she received a free night at a hotel in Boston and asked if I wanted it since she couldn’t use it. I said sure, but little did I know Cory was planning on proposing.

He loves to site see, so he wanted to go down to the water and look at the lights and buildings. I didn’t think anything of it except that it was freezing cold. Suddenly, he told me to take my go-pro out and video tape the scenery, which my mother bought me secretly for this moment. When I turned around after video tapping the scenery he was on one knee. I got so nervous I turned off the go pro (LOL). But I said YESSS!!! It was perfect, just me and him; I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Courtesy of Amanda Vieira

A year after the proposal, Dr. Wakeley called me and said she found a cyst on my left ovary. Mind you, I had to go for ultrasounds every 6 months since I was diagnosed as a child. This time, however, she said, ‘I’m concerned because the cyst is getting bigger and I need to remove it.’ My whole life flashed before my eyes. All I wanted was a family of my own. It felt like déjà vu, only this time as an adult. I called Cory and my mother right away and I couldn’t stop crying. They both met me at my house and just comforted me; my brother and father shortly came after with some of my aunts and cousins. I was so scared, but at the same time I felt loved and safe knowing I had so much support.

A couple of weeks after the news, I went to South Shore Hospital in Weymouth Mass to have the surgery. Dr. Wakeley made me feel comfortable and prepared for the outcome. She’d been my doctor since I was 14 years old, so I wouldn’t trust any other doctor with my life. When I was under, the waiting room was full again with anxious loved ones. When Dr. Wakeley came out and said she removed half of my ovary but it needs to get biopsied, my mother lost it. That’s when Cory grabbed her and said, ‘I’m here now, you are not going to handle this by yourself.’ And he was. He was at the hospital every day, helping to wash me and get me out of bed for a walk. The results came back three weeks later, which were negative. Dr. Wakeley said if Cory and I wanted children we would have to think about this fast, because if she sees another big cyst she can’t save half of my ovary. That’s when she referred us to an infertility clinic.

Courtesy of Amanda Vieira

Although this isn’t how Cory and I wanted to start our family, we were both excited for the next step. After buying our first home together we made our appointment and were ready to start a family. Little did we know how much is involved in the infertility world. We met Dr. Elizabeth Ginsburg, and she was so nice. We both felt comfortable with her. We informed her we were getting married within that year, but we wanted to start ASAP due to Dr. Wakeley’s advice.

Dr. Ginsburg and her team informed us that before we can start IVF the insurance won’t pay for it until we do 2 cycles of IUI. We jumped on board and were ready. We did our first IUI and we both felt like this was definitely going to be the one. Sad to say, that was the first of very bad news; the pregnancy test was a negative. A couple of months later we did our second IUI, which we were only doing for insurance purposes. We really wanted to start IVF, since the percentages of that working were much higher.

But the second IUI was also a negative. That’s when we took a break and chose to focus on planning the final touches of our wedding. When Cory and I went to the clinic for lab work they asked where we would be going on our honeymoon. ‘Mexico,’ I said. That’s when the nurse looked at me and replied, ‘You can’t start IVF if you go to Mexico due to the Zika virus.’ I got in my car and just fell apart. The negative pregnancy tests, the hour drives to the clinic every other day…I was overwhelmed. Cory instantly said, ‘There are plenty of other places we can go, don’t worry.’ After that we decided to go on a cruise to Bermuda for our honeymoon, and we got ready for the big day. We had a huge, fairytale wedding; it was everything I always wanted. The honeymoon was amazing and we had a blast.

Courtesy of Amanda Vieira

A month after the honeymoon, we started IVF. We were excited to start this next step. I was on so many hormones, sticking myself with needles in the morning before work and before bed. I remember thinking this is it. I even planned out when the baby would be due and how I would want my gender reveal and baby shower. I was so excited for the egg retrieval. Cory wasn’t too happy he had to give another ‘sample’ but he was a good sport about it. The doctor then came in and told us he only got one egg (which isn’t good). But Cory and I were still hopeful; we just kept saying, ‘It only takes one.’

We got the phone call the next day and we found out that one egg turned into an embryo. We jumped for joy! Three days after we went in for the embryo transfer, we were both so excited. I had to get dressed in a hospital gown and he got to come in with me wearing OR scrubs. We watched them implant the embryo and we both just thought wow, this is our child. A couple of weeks after the embryo transfer, I started to bleed. I phoned the on-call doctor and that’s when she told me the embryo didn’t stick. I literally lost it. I fell apart crying and I knew Cory was trying to be strong for me. He left me alone in our bedroom and I heard him crying downstairs. That was one of the hardest days we both went through. Our hopes and dreams just vanished within a few minutes.

I was eager to try again. We were both ready since we knew all it takes is one bad ultrasound of my left ovary and Dr. Wakeley had to remove everything. The insurance sent the approval for the next cycle, but that cycle didn’t even make it to become an embryo. At this time I think me and Cory were just numb to it all. We both started trying to convince ourselves our family would be fine with just us, but knew deep down we wanted a child. The third cycle was right before Covid hit. Dr. Ginsburg set up a new protocol which had me on twice the hormones and meds I was taking prior.

I was an emotional mess; I was moody and just not myself. When I went under for the egg retrieval they said we got six eggs this time, so Cory and I were so happy. Dr. Ginsburg called the next day and told us we had one embryo. We jumped for joy and again started dreaming about our future child! We went in and had our embryo implanted, and started our two-week waiting period to see if it sticks. I felt so good about this embryo. Due to Covid, I was sent home for a couple of months so I was relaxed at home. I felt great, until the nurse from the clinic called me and said it was time to take an at home-pregnancy test.

When I looked at the test and it said negative again, I fell apart. This time I was alone and Cory was working. I called him and my mother and broke the news. It was devastating. We ended up doing 3 more rounds of IVF, but we didn’t get any other embryos. That’s when the clinic called us and said the insurance only covers six IVF cycles, and if we wanted to keep trying we would have to pay out of pocket. Everyone knows IVF is super expensive with insurance, nevermind without it. We couldn’t afford that. We knew our IVF journey was over, and we had no other choice but to give up.

When I started to feel depressed right before my last IVF cycle, I created an Instagram page called IVF.SUCKS, and that was the best thing I ever did. I started to find and make memes of my own about how I was feeling and some of them were actually spot on and funny. I’ve met and talked to so many people going through infertility, and it just feels so good to know you are not alone. 1 out of 8 women go through infertility and it is barely talked about. It is great to be part of such a supporting group of people that know exactly how you’re feeling.

I have been thinking lately to expand and start selling some merchandise. Hopefully I can keep meeting and talking to great people, and support anyone that needs a helping hand. IVF didn’t work for me and my husband but maybe it wasn’t meant to be. It’s been a year since our last failed IVF cycle, and now we are discussing adoption. But that is just one part of my story, and there is so much yet to come.”

Courtesy of called Eloquent Images Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amanda Vieira from New Bedford, MA. Follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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