March 2015

Karen-Lavoie.jpg“In 2012, I had been having really bad stomach pains and my provider sent me for an ultrasound,” remembers Karen Lavoie of Madawaska. “They found that I had gall stones, but they saw something else that prompted them to send me for an MRI. That’s when they discovered I had ovarian cancer.”
 
Ovarian cancer, often called the Silent Killer by the medical community, because women often attribute the symptoms to other health matters. 
 
“They had sent my results to an oncologist in Bangor, but she didn’t want to handle my case, so they sent them to a specialist in Scarborough,” said Karen. “In two weeks I had my surgery. They performed a full hysterectomy and found that the cancer was contained in a tumor.”
 
The tumor had been small when they found it on the MRI, but in the two weeks before they took it out it had grown rapidly.
 
“When they did the surgery they really had to work to get it out without rupturing the tumor or the cancer cells could have spread,” said Karen. “It had spread to some fatty tissue but they removed that as well as 49 lymph nodes.”
 
The week Karen came home from surgery, her co-workers, family and friends brought her supper every night for two weeks.
 
“That was amazing,” Karen said. “I didn’t have to worry about feeding the family. It was one less stress I had to deal with.”
 
Six weeks later Karen started chemotherapy in Scarborough. According to her oncologist, her type of ovarian cancer would have come back without chemo. For 18 weeks, Karen had to travel to Scarborough for a day of chemo.
 
“Why am I not getting a break? I had wondered,” said Karen. “I guess we did a lower dose so that’s why I got it every week. I ended up only missing one week due to my white blood cell count, which is quite good considering.”
 
At the beginning, Karen drove herself down to treatment and then family starting stepping in to help drive. With the fatigue that Karen was beginning to experience, it was getting difficult to drive to Scarborough and back.
 
“After a few weeks, I worked with Patient Airlift Services (PALS),” said Karen. “They would pick me up and drop me off – same day most times. I don’t think I could have done it without them. You’re just so tired.”
 
A friend suggested that Karen drink Gatorade to help with the fatigue associated with chemo and it worked. She did lose her hair during treatment, but because she had such thick hair to begin with, no one knew. She simply got creative with covering it up.
 
“I had a lot of hair, but I never cut it before treatment like a lot of people do,” said Karen. “As I was losing it, I would put it in a ponytail and wear a hat – no one knew.  That worked for a while until most of my hair was gone. Then I wore I really great wig that looked so much like my natural hair.”
 
At the last treatment, Karen’s oncologist found that she had a cyst that had to be drained.  They inserted a drain which helped her start to feel better quite quickly, but then it became infected. She was put on antibiotics and once they began to fight the infection, she finally felt good again.
 
“Once all of that was dealt with, I only had to return to my oncologist every three months for a check-up,” Karen said. “Starting this summer, I’ll only have to go see him every six months.”  
 
When Karen was first diagnosed, she took a leave of absence from her job and after treatment she slowly eased back in. She had to try to avoid interacting with the public due to her weakened immune system, but her employer helped her work around any issues that might crop up.
 
“They were so good to me, I’m very grateful,” said Karen. “I had family and friends who helped and accommodated me and that really helps you heal. I think it’s important that people don’t get discouraged. I met a lot of people who were diagnosed with terminal cancer. One of them has lived for over three years when he was only given six months. Technology is changing and cures happen every day. Don’t give up.”
March 2015
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