Survivor Profile Andrea Annese-Como

In our new recurring series of survivor profiles, Women&Cancer will interview a different survivor each quarter to hear how women at various stages of managing a cancer diagnosis have approached their situation. We hope these personal glimpses of the strength and diversity amongst women living with cancer will inspire our readers.

Briefly describe your diagnosis and treatment.

In 2006, as I prepared for my fortieth birthday and decided I wanted to challenge myself physically, I began running. It was at this point that I noticed what I would later realize were the first symptoms of ovarian cancer—the whispers:

  • Frequent urination during exercise
  • Spotting between periods
  • Fatigue
  • Mild pain on my left side

I followed up with my gynecologist but was told that these symptoms were nothing to worry about. It wasn’t until March 2007 that I finally received a diagnosis. After I experienced considerable, persistent pain on my left side during a run, I went to the emergency room. After several hours of blood tests and a CT [computed tomography] scan, it was determined that I had two large cysts pressing against my left ovary. I underwent immediate surgery to remove the cysts. In the next moment that I remember clearly, my doctor stood beside me and told me that I had Stage II ovarian cancer.

My early diagnosis meant that my treatment consisted of a full hysterectomy and three radiation treatments. I did not have any complications from the radiation treatments, and I truly feel that my positive approach to the situation helped me recover quickly.

What was your age and health status at time of diagnosis?

I had just turned 40, and I was honestly in the best shape of my life! I maintain a healthful diet, and I was enjoying running, spinning, weight lifting, and yoga at the time.

Did you have a family history of this disease?

No, there is no history of ovarian cancer in my family.

How did your diagnosis affect your work and family life?

I work in our family business, and I was fortunate enough to be able to take the time off that I needed to recover and return to work slowly. My husband, my children, my extended family, and my friends were all very helpful and supportive. Everyone took turns cooking, helping with our two children, or just sitting and chatting with me.

Where did you turn for emotional support following your diagnosis?

During the first few weeks following my diagnosis, I actually spent a lot of time focusing on the positive and journaling my feelings. I knew that my family and friends were there for me, but having quiet time alone helped me focus on my purpose. I also reached out to a local support group called Caring Together (www.caringtogetherny.org), where I was encouraged to share my story to help others. This is when I began to realize that my purpose is to educate as many women as I can. I am thankful to the many wonderful women I have met at Caring Together.

What did you learn from your cancer experience?

Believe it or not, in many ways ovarian cancer was a gift. It has forced me to think of who I am and who I want to be. It has given me clarity of purpose to raise my two beautiful children. And, last but not least, ovarian cancer has given me the clarity of conscience to have the best attitude each day.

What is your current health status, and how often do you receive follow-up care?

My current health status is excellent, and I will celebrate my third year cancer-free in March 2010. I still see my amazing oncologist every four months for an exam and blood work.

Do you have any tips to offer newly diagnosed patients?

I know it can certainly be very difficult at times, but, in my case, keeping my mind clear and maintaining a positive outlook were very helpful. I also found that journaling about my thoughts, feelings, and physical symptoms helped ease my stress. Maintaining a healthy, organic diet filled with fruits and vegetables also helped my recovery. That, combined with getting out for fresh air and exercise as soon as I received permission from my doctors, was a huge benefit to me physically and mentally.