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Patient tips 11 things that helped me navigate an ovarian cancer diagnosis

11 things that helped me navigate an ovarian cancer diagnosis

In 2020, Andrea S. was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer. The mom and former nurse was 56 years old and knew little about the disease. As a breast cancer survivor, Andrea couldn’t believe she was facing another devastating diagnosis. The experience inspired her to start a nonprofit, Harts of Teal, dedicated to raising awareness about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. Here, Andrea shares the things that helped her navigate months of surgeries and chemotherapy following her diagnosis.

  1. Find someone who has walked the walk you’re on now. When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I knew no one who had navigated the same diagnosis. Frankly, my knowledge about the disease itself was limited. I had my family and care team, but I wanted to talk to someone who had sat in my very shoes and knew the roller coaster of emotions I was feeling. My prayer was to bring someone to me who has gone down this road and could provide that direction. Ovarian cancer can be isolating. It’s why I co-founded Harts of Teal along with a fellow ovarian cancer survivor—I want to be there for other women who need that support after diagnosis.
  2. Always bring someone with you to appointments. I was diagnosed in 2020, so this wasn’t always possible for me, but I think it’s a must-have. I had to play both roles—the patient and the support person—during appointments. Regardless, I always walked in armed with questions for my care team. As a patient, those check-ins with your care team may feel overwhelming. Your head may be spinning with all the medical jargon, and you may not hear everything the doctor is saying. As a nurse, I’ve seen this firsthand. When I check notes for patients, what they’ve written down is sometimes totally different from what the doctor meant. Having someone there who’s an advocate may help eliminate that confusion. Now, I volunteer to go with other women who are going through chemotherapy and navigating those appointments.
  3. Look for the unexpected helpers in your life. I often tell people one of the best ways to show support for cancer patients is to love on their children extra hard. The people who stepped up the most for my own family after my diagnosis were surprising. One couple brought over Easter baskets—completely unprompted—for our daughters. I couldn’t go to the store and make their baskets, so they stepped in. As a mom, when someone does something that kind for your kids without being asked—you can’t put a price on that feeling.
  4. Honor all versions of yourself. Some cancer survivors don’t want to look at pictures of themselves in the throes of treatment, but it helps keep my day-to-day struggles in perspective. Sometimes, I go through my phone and look at photos from the times when I was at my lowest of lows and compare those moments to where I am right now. During the toughest moments of treatment, I would crave the most mundane parts of my life—driving my kids to school, grocery shopping, etc. I had 55 years before my ovarian cancer diagnosis, and I was determined to not let this disease define me.
  5. Be honest with your friends and family about how often you want to talk about your diagnosis. I had a friend who frequently checked in, and each time, she’d ask, “How are you feeling?” Although it was well-intended and she asked because she cared, it was frustrating to be asked that question every time! I was still Andrea, the same friend who wanted to share funny stories and plan our next lunch together—not Andrea with cancer. I had an honest conversation about how I was feeling, and it was an important reminder for me that you have to communicate what your needs are.
  6. Consider working with a therapist. A cancer diagnosis can feel traumatic and cause PTSD. Although you may have a strong support system, it’s important to have an outlet to share your feelings without judgment.
  7. Buy a water bottle with an infuser. For me, a water bottle with a fruit infuser helped take away the metallic taste in my mouth from chemotherapy treatments.
  8. Invest in some wooden cutlery. Similar to the water bottle tip, this really helped cut down on the metallic taste I experienced after chemotherapy.
  9. Pack cold mittens and booties on chemotherapy treatment days. Neuropathy is a side effect I dealt with during chemotherapy. My trick: Pack your cold mittens and booties in dry ice and slip them on 20 minutes before treatment starts. This was a game-changer for me!
  10. Keep an extra cozy blanket handy at all times. Chemo made me feel cold constantly. It didn’t matter how many layers I had on or what the thermostat said, I was cold! A cozy, oversized blanket is essential.
  11. If you require an overnight stay, pack your own pajamas. My chemotherapy treatment plan required an actual hospital stay each time, and I never wore the hospital gown. Instead I’d pack my own clothes and it helped me feel more like Andrea and less like Andrea with cancer. I didn’t want to let the hospital setting pull me down mentally, so I wore my pajamas and faced treatment days on my terms.

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