Mandi's story: my new normal after ovarian cancer
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
At 28, Mandi was married to an addict when diagnosed with Stage III C ovarian cancer. 12 years later, she admits that the battle with her body started before her diagnosis. Today, she shares her story to inspire other women to break away from society’s narrative that our bodies will never be good enough. A must-read.
Diagnosed at 28 years
Who needs ovaries anyway, right?! Especially when they try to kill you. I’d gladly give mine up all over again knowing what I know now. Unfortunately, most women still don’t know much about ovarian cancer, so it is my duty to share my story.
Revisiting the trauma isn’t particularly enjoyable but I soon realized that healing often accompanies transparency.
I first learned that I had ovarian cancer when I woke up in a recovery room with a nurse dictating next to me, “28-year-old female, malignant neoplastic ovaries.”
If it's up to anyone, it's up to me
Prior to that moment, I thought I was just having a cyst removed. Easy peasy: in and out in an hour. Instead, I was diagnosed with Stage III C high grade serous carcinoma - an aggressive form of late-stage ovarian cancer that not so generously offered me a 20% chance of living 5 years.
To add insult to injury, I was married to an addict that wasn’t capable of taking care of me, so he moved out of our home within two weeks of my diagnosis. On a scale of 1- 10, my trauma meter was at 12.5 at this point in my life.
A new normal after cancer
The day that chemo ends is when the real struggle begins. How do you even begin to start over? I had wanted nothing more than to be “normal” for the past 6 months. I guarantee you that your definition of “normal” changes after cancer. Nothing will ever be normal again, mentally or physically. My body had been robbed of its youth and I was a divorced, barren woman with a shelf life.
People think that once your hair grows back and your scars start to slightly fade, you have moved on but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
It is humanly impossible to escape our journeys unscathed. We have been poked and prodded, we have been gutted like fish. Our bodies are battered and bruised and unrecognizable to us. We are traumatized. No, we don’t get off the cancer ride to return to what we were before. Although, what was I before? Cruel to myself and the body that I lived in. That’s what I was before.
I have always been at battle with my body, even before my diagnosis. I succumbed early to society’s narrative that as a woman, my body will never be good enough. Thin enough. Fit enough. Curvy enough.
Our social media culture perpetuates the lie that unless we look like "her” we are not worthy and will never be “enough”. We fall victim to spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars throughout our lifetime in an attempt to lift, tuck, laser and paint ourselves into the ideal vision of beauty.
And now not only had my horrible body betrayed me, it would forever serve as an insidious reminder of the trauma. Scars run like a roadmap across my abdomen. Menopause welcomes weight gain as if it were an old friend. Hot flashes leave me with unsightly pit stains on my shirt and sweat dripping from my forehead. But I am alive.
I AM ALIVE!
Shouldn’t this be all that matters? Or at least top priority?
It took me years to love my body. It’s still a work in progress.
Although “she” has betrayed me in the past, she is all I’ve got so I chose to forgive and forget, to move on and to take care of her the way we all deserve to be taken care of. I’ve let go of the negative self-talk… those things that I would never even consider saying to another woman that used to run rampant in my mind with such speed that I didn’t even notice them anymore.
Mandi's words to other cancer thrivers
I refuse to be that kind of “normal.” I deserve better. We deserve better. YOU deserve better.
I’ll never be the same again, but that’s OK, because I have been given a second chance. Maybe you have as well. Or maybe you are simply searching for more. More meaning, more love, more adventure. We don’t all get the luxury of a long life, but it is up to YOU how you use the hours that have been gifted to you. No, as a cancer survivor you will never be the same. That person you used to recognize as yourself is gone.
If you allow yourself to see it, you can return from whatever journey you are on with a clarity that enables you to truly love yourself, embrace what you have been given (body, mind and soul) and make the most of it.
Here I am, just shy of 12 years past the day that shook the foundation under my feet. Here I am, telling you that life goes on. Love goes on. Yes, I am still licking my wounds, but my scars show the world what I am made of. But all of this… it is a part of me. It has been woven into the fabric that continues to create the After; the “me” that I am still becoming. I do not shy away from what happened and I am blessed to be here to share it, not only in hope to save lives through awareness, but also to continue to pick up the broken pieces of me in an effort to glue them back together in a new form of “normal.”
Mandi and Mel