Knowledge, Faith and Courage Shape One Woman’s Cancer Journey
It was the intense cramping that woke her up that cold, January morning. She had noticed some recent weight gain around her stomach and it had become sore to the touch. After taking some pain relievers, Monica Hay, then a 46-year-old employee of the state, tried to go back to sleep. However, the cramping became unbearable, and her mom rushed her to the emergency room.
News quickly came that a tumor the size of a soccer ball located in her ovary had burst and was leaking. That’s when she first heard her diagnosis: ovarian cancer.
“My grandmother died from it,” Monica said, now 58 years old and working as a unit secretary at Memorial Medical Center. “My dad died of colon cancer. My aunt died of breast cancer when she was just 50. I was no stranger to the disease.”
After a hysterectomy and a nearly two-week stay in the hospital, Monica underwent three rounds of chemotherapy.
“After the second week of chemo, my roommate jokingly told me to wash my hair,” she said. “I hadn’t done it yet because I was afraid my hair was going to fall out, and it did. So I ended up getting a really cute wig.”
Prevalence and Complications
Monica’s cancer was diagnosed at stage I. She was lucky.
“Up to 22,000 women are diagnosed in the United States each year, and up to 15,000 will die,” said Nora MacZura, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at Springfield Clinic. It’s considered one of the more deadly cancers, and it has the highest mortality rate of female cancers.”
Once cancer free, Monica helped form a local ovarian cancer support group. One night, one of the members brought some informational brochures about cancer and genetic testing. It set off alarm bells for Monica, who later tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation.
“I had this enormous risk of breast cancer and it also explained my increased risk for ovarian cancer. Doctors’ only recommendation was the bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. I knew it was the way to go.”
She now receives regular cancer screenings.
Monica is a proud grandmother and is looking forward to helping her son and daughter-in-law welcome twins next year. You can also find her at local singing competitions belting out songs by Adele and Whitney Houston.
She knows her outcome could have been very different and has words of wisdom for other women.
“Know the symptoms, because ovarian cancer mimics menopause symptoms and there are no screening tests for ovarian cancer. Bloating, constipation, feeling full quickly, frequent urination and fatigue should all be checked out if they persist for more than a couple of weeks. Have a good support system in place. Ask questions of your doctors and be knowledgeable. And don’t forget to have a sense of humor. The Bible says laughter is like medicine, and I’ve found that to be true.”
Memorial Medical Center will host a free seminar on gynecologic cancers at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, at the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation. The two-hour program, “It Can’t Happen to Me: Ovarian, Cervical and Uterine Cancers,” will feature two gynecologic oncologists: Dr. MacZura and Laurent Brard, MD, with the Simmons Cancer Institute and SIU HealthCare. Dr. MacZura will discuss ovarian cancer, and Dr. Brard will talk about cervical, uterine and endometrial cancer. Cancer survivors will also share their stories with the audience. Register today.