‘The nurse let out a huge gasp. ‘I’m sorry, we thought you were sleeping!’ I wasn’t supposed to hear. Heavily pregnant, all I could think was, ‘Is is true? Do I have it?’: Mom details battle with ovarian cancer, survivor’s guilt

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“When I was little, I believed in fairy tales. I loved thinking of the princess, her prince charming, and their happy ending. Like many little girls, I wished for a fairy tale of my own. I envisioned myself in fairy tale land, surrounded by beauty and magic and having my prince charming come riding in on a robust and dazzling white horse. It all seemed fascinating in my mind. Except, I was lacking a small detail – the fact that in order for the happy ending to arrive, the princess had to endure some kind of adversity. See, in my mind, there was no room for the antagonist. That was, until I got older and realized all great stories are made up of a struggle that must be overcome.

At 34 years of age, I wouldn’t say I completely believe in fairy tales, as they are told in children’s books and movies. I do, however, believe each of us are given a life that unfolds with great beauty and magic (I now know this magic to be miracles) into a story worth telling. So, here I am. In this part of my story, my ‘prince charming’ didn’t come riding in on a horse. Instead, he arrived in the form of a baby I was blessed to carry in my womb for almost 8 months. The antagonist wasn’t an evil witch or a wicked step-mother. Instead, it was a silent evil that came lurking in known as ovarian cancer.

Courtesy of Diana Guevara-Lopez

This particular story began to unfold on October 30, 2006. When I was twenty years old, and while pregnant with my second child, I was diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer. It was unexpected and almost surreal. I had been married for just a little over a year, had a baby who was almost turning one, and was in the process of getting ready to be a mother of two. A cancer diagnosis was not something I thought I’d ever have to deal with. Actually, it was something that blindsided all of us, even the doctors.

It all began at the first ultrasound of my second pregnancy. What was meant to be a normal doctor’s appointment, turned into a referral to have an exploratory outpatient procedure after my first trimester to determine the cause of a mass they saw in the ultrasound. Prior to the procedure, it was ruled out as a uterine fibroid. I remember my doctor saying, ‘It looks like a solid, round mass. That is good news, as it leads us to believe it is benign and should dissolve on its own after the baby is born.’

A few weeks later, on October 30, 2006, it was surgery time. Looking back, I should’ve been freaking out. However, I wasn’t. Call me naïve, but I thought it was going to be just like any other day. I remember walking into the hospital thinking I’d be home by dinner time. Within the hour, I was being prepped for surgery in a small room where my husband was not able to accompany me. I remember the nurses talking to me, trying to ‘soothe me’ as they explained that due to my pregnancy they wouldn’t be able to inject me with any type of medicine to help me relax or stay calm leading up to getting sedated. I thought, ‘What are they so concerned about? The doctor said it would be a quick and easy procedure.’ I guess they knew enough to know this could lead to far more than that.

I loved the doctor that was operating on me. He had delivered our first son, so I had nothing but good memories when it came to seeing him in his scrubs. I remember smiling as I saw him walk into the operating room and his soothing voice telling me, ‘Okay, Diana, Count back with me. 5, 4, 3…’ And that was it. I drifted off into nothingness. Next thing I knew, I was groggy, achy, and sleepy as I began to come to my senses in a large recovery room filled with stretchers, plain curtains, and nurses talking monotonously across the room from each other.

What seemed like a few minutes to me had apparently been several hours. I attempted to move, but felt like most of my body was still completely asleep and immovable. Then, I heard it. The words I never in a million years thought would be said about me. A nurse called across the room, ‘Yes, patient Diana Lopez… positive for cancer…’ What? I thought, ‘Did I hear her right? Is she talking about me?’ I mustered the little strength I had and called for the nurse. I said, ‘Excuse me ma’am, did I hear you correctly? Did you just say I have cancer?’

To be honest, I don’t remember her face very well. I just remember the huge gasp she gave. She quickly apologized saying, ‘I’m sorry, we thought you were still sleeping. Please get some rest. You will get to talk to your doctor soon.’ So, I did. I calmly and easily closed my eyes as I replied, ‘Okay…’ Was it all a dream? What had I woken up to?

I woke up a while later in my hospital room, my husband at my bedside and my dad across from me. All I remember saying was, ‘Is it true? Do I have cancer?’ As they nodded, I quickly told them I didn’t want my mother to know. I knew this would break her. You see, she and I had a special bond. She was my warrior, my superhero. She endured so many health trials in her life, but that’s a story for another day.

Eventually, it all started setting in. I had just become a statistic, a cancer patient. But what did it mean for my future? What about my husband? We had been married for just over a year. What about my son, Andy? His first birthday was happening in just a few days. What about the baby on the way? Really, what about the baby? By then, we didn’t even know if this baby was a boy or a girl. It was a tiny human being the size of a plum. Yet, SO strong! The doctors had managed to open me up, remove a tumor the size of a softball, and NOT touch the uterus. My baby was safe! It was a miracle! And, me? Well, that was yet to be known. While the doctors had seemed to have been able to remove the tumor in its entirety, the results from the pathology exams would reveal if it had spread.

On November 2, 2006, just a few days after the surgery, my doctor came in to see me. The results were back. It turned out the cancer was encapsulated in my right ovary and had not spread. The doctor described it as perfect timing. ‘It was as if the tumor was ready to burst, but held on to be removed.’

What? I couldn’t contain myself. I began to sob and smile at the same time. The fear, worry, and endless list of unknowns that had piled up in my mind for the last two days were now put to rest. Suddenly, I looked up at the clock, I looked around the room, I looked directly into my doctor’s eyes and said, ‘Doctor Dickerson, thank you! This is the BEST gift you could have ever given my son, Daniel Andres. Today, at exactly this time, in this hospital, in a room similar to this one, you were delivering our son. Now, you are delivering this news.’ Once again, this was a miracle, and Dr. Dickerson was my angel.

A few months later, I delivered a beautiful 8.5 lb. baby boy. Unfortunately, he was born a little early and required extra care, but by then I felt strong and ready to care for him. I did not want to lose a minute of the second chance at life I had been given, and I wanted to care for my miracle baby in all ways possible. After some time and a follow-up surgery after the baby was born, I was officially in remission. After so much fear and worry of the unknown, life seemed to get back to normal. I was alive, my sons were thriving, life was good.

Courtesy of Diana Guevara-Lopez
Courtesy of Diana Guevara-Lopez

I’d like to say life was all rainbows and roses after that. In fact, I wish I could. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. As a young couple, my husband and I were trying to figure out how to be parents and do married life all while continuing to figure ourselves out and become adults. Admittedly, we did not always do a very good job at it. Still, even through our ups and downs, God’s mercy and grace continued to show up all throughout our lives. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t miserable, nor did we have a terrible life. On the contrary, we tried to do the best we could. The issue was we tried to do it in our own strength. That was the problem! How naïve of us. Hadn’t we learned something from all we had gone through our first two years of marriage?

The years passed, the boys were growing, we loved our family (as difficult as the ‘marriage’ part sometimes seemed). My husband and I knew the mere fact that I was alive to see our boys grow was a miracle. Although, I won’t deny, there were several times throughout those years this ghastly thought would creep into my mind in the form of a question: ‘What if the cancer comes back?’ To our dismay, after ten years of marriage, two sons, and a whole lot of good while also some bad, my frightening question was answered by an unexpected call.

Courtesy of Diana Guevara-Lopez

It had been a while since I had gone back to see my oncologist. In my naivetés, I had come to think it was okay to stop going to my follow-ups as it had been so long since my encounter with cancer. I had been feeling odd for a few weeks. There was an uncomfortable pain in my back and abdomen as well as unusual exhaustion, but I refused to pay much attention to it. Nonetheless, God used a friend of mine to nudge me into paying attention to my symptoms and going back to my oncologist, once again. In early 2015, a friend of mine was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. As I saw her charge back at cancer and dive into her treatments with boldness and courage, I was faced with my past fears. I remember our ‘cancer conversations’ as our boys played and she would advise me to stay on top of my health. So, I did.

In August 2015, after coming back from a family vacation in Cancun celebrating ten years of marriage, I received a dreadful call, one I wished I would never have to receive. The cancer was back! Suddenly, it all made sense: The cramps, the swollen legs and stomach, the tiredness – all the little signs I had been ignoring in the last few weeks. It all made sense. I was in shock! I could hear the boys playing upstairs without a care in the world. Meanwhile, I froze. Fear struck me. I didn’t know how to react, who to tell, or what to do. Gladly, my cousin lived just a few houses from mine, and my grandma was visiting and staying with her at the time. I went over to see them and told them what was going on. Then there was my poor husband. I honestly don’t remember how I broke the news to him. I can just say I am so grateful that by then our marriage was in a much better place and we had grown and matured in our relationship. I knew I could count on him. I was so blessed to have him by my side every step of the way.

Courtesy of Diana Guevara-Lopez

Within two weeks, I was admitted into the hospital where my oncologist proceeded to perform an emergency hysterectomy, where he removed a cancerous tumor the size of a cantaloupe. To the glory of God, once again, all of the cancer was removed. I was in pain, in shock, and a bit lost, but I was alive and cancer-free. That was what mattered.

Courtesy of Diana Guevara-Lopez

Shortly after getting out of the hospital, I went into depression. I was fearful, I was anxious, I felt defeated and extremely afraid of dying and leaving my husband, my children, and my family alone. I spent most of my days resting on a lounge chair in our bedroom, as the pain from my surgery was so intense I could barely find comfort lying down. I remember my fear of dying was so immense, I refused to let my husband out of my sight. I would call for him every few minutes. I would constantly cry and get upset at him for ‘leaving me to go downstairs.’

I feared I would not see my boys grow up. I tried to be strong in front of them and act like everything was okay, but would break down the moment they were out of my sight. I tried to distract myself by reading magazines, but it seemed like everything I came across was bad news and people dying. I am sure it wasn’t truly the case, but at the time it was all my mind could focus on: death. It was an awful way to live. Fortunately, I had a wonderful support system who cared for and invested in me. I can now say my faith in God and my family helped me get through one of the darkest moments in my life.

Up until about a year ago, it was difficult for me to talk about my story. I felt almost ‘unworthy’ to call myself a cancer survivor. After seeing all that so many people who have gone through cancer have had to endure, I felt like what I went through was miniscule. That was, until I came across the page of another cancer survivor who shared her experience and with whom I clearly identified myself with. She gave a name to what I had felt for so long: survivor’s guilt. For years, I felt this overwhelming guilt for surviving something so many people have not. I questioned what I had done to deserve being alive when I felt like a flawed human-being who perhaps deserved the opposite. I hurt seeing others hurt, and desperately wished I could somehow take their pain away. Instead, I opted to bottle in all of my feelings and not talk about my story.

Courtesy of Diana Guevara-Lopez

Fortunately, I’ve come to realize all those negative feelings are nothing but lies. My life is a miracle, and the fact I am here today, after facing cancer twice, is worth speaking of. I am worthy of being alive. What I’ve gone through has a purpose so much bigger and greater than myself. Slowly, I had to claim these facts as my truth. I had to confront the negative feelings and demolish them with truth, positivity, and faith. I began speaking up and pouring into others, and in this way, realized my story needed to be told.

Granted, this story may not seem like much of a fairy tale. However, I do feel like the princess of it. I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be all magic and songs for it to be a good tale. Instead, it is more about what it takes for the princess to become the warrior, the journey she needs to travel to lead her to her purpose. I’ve come to realize what should echo in my story is not the ‘cancer’ but the ‘survivor’ in ‘Cancer Survivor.’ My desire and hope is by sharing my story, I can somehow bring hope and encouragement to others and highlight how this beautiful life we’ve been given is worth living and fighting for.”

Courtesy of Diana Guevara-Lopez
Courtesy of Diana Guevara-Lopez

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Guevara-Lopez of Alpharetta, GA. You can follow her journey on Instagram, YouTube, and her website. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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