Ovarian cancer: "The doctor told me I had only 6 months to live!"
Published 9 Sep 2021 • By Aurélien De Biagi
Chantal, a member of Carenity France, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2018. After a difficult diagnosis, she recounts her fight against cancer!
Discover her testimonial below!
Hello Chantal, thank you for accepting to share your story with us on Carenity!
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am French but I have lived in Florida since 2006. I was a high school teacher and a university lecturer. I spent 6 years in French Guiana and then moved to the USA. I have been living alone since 2019. My husband left me when I returned to Florida after my year of hospitalisation at the Bergonié Institute in Bordeaux, France. My entire family is in France. I love life in Florida and my job as a substitute teacher.
I love animals - I regularly advocate for animals, especially the manatees and chimpanzees at Savethechimps.org in Fort Pierce, Florida.
How long have you had ovarian cancer? What symptoms motivated you to seek help?
My ovarian cancer was discovered in January 2018. My stomach had started to grow, it felt like I was expecting triplets! A doctor asked to have the "fluid" drained. As I continued to grow, I went to a gastroenterologist here in Florida on the advice of my GP, who thought it was a gastrointestinal issue. After a scan, the doctor told me, bluntly, that I had 6 months to live and that even the sale of the house would not cover the cost of the chemo. He couldn't tell me which cancer I had.
So, I decided to go back to France with my husband to the Bergonié Institute's hospital. Finally, I had a name for this "water" in my stomach: ascites. I was immediately treated by Dr. Anne Floquet, an oncologist, and Dr. Guyon, a surgeon.
Was the cancer difficult to diagnose? Did you see any specialists?
Yes, it was, because here in Florida, no one was able to tell me I had ascites or give me a CA 125 test. The first time I had ascites drained, the results came back "negative" for any malignancy!
I didn't see any specialists in the US.
The only competent and humane specialists were at the Bergonié Institute.
How did you handle the diagnosis? How did you feel?
Very poorly, the news was very sudden. I was supposed to die in July (announcement made on 4 January). The doctor even recommended that I make a will in favour of my husband so that he wouldn't have to pay inheritance fees. I was not given any information about the cancer I was suffering from. The doctor stayed for 10 minutes with my husband and me...and as we cried...he threw a box of Kleenex on the table and left. My husband caught up with him in the hallway and asked him what my cancer was. He threw it in his face - ovary, peritoneum - without any more explanation. But his secretary didn't forget to charge us $150, of course!
How did I feel? That the world was falling apart, my life and the lives of those I loved, my husband, my son - why force my death on them so soon? I cried, not being ready to die so quickly. Seeing my death, facing it so violently was for me unbearable... facing this doctor who had no sort of empathy, who was cold and completely detached from humanity, who thought only of the money he could make from the chemo.
How did your loved ones react to your diagnosis? Do they understand your cancer? Are they supportive?
They reacted with total dismay - nobody really believed it. Yes, I was supported. But I didn't want to tell everyone... I didn't want their compassion. I wanted to be in France to have more peace and quiet and a more serene view of cancer and above all, I was sure to find competent doctors. The ascites didn't even put the American doctors on the spot. They had no idea I had cancer. I looked it up on the internet and put a name to it: ovarian cancer.
At that point I was at stage 3.
What were your day-to-day symptoms? What impact has your cancer had on your professional and personal life?
I didn't have any daily symptoms, which is why the diagnosis was so sudden for my husband and me. It doesn't have any impact on my professional life.
As far as my personal life is concerned, my husband abandoned me after a year of treatment. He was there during my hospitalisation, he left his job for me, went back and forth between the US and France, got bored and left me. The impact was greater for him, for his professional life. For our private life, my life as a wife was completely destroyed.
What treatments did you undergo? Were they effective? Did you experience any side effects?
In France, I had a laparoscopy and then a chemo port. After the first round of chemotherapy, I was in a coma for over a week due to a pulmonary embolism. I came out of the coma and had chemo again until May, when I had my operation. I had another round of chemo and other problems in August because of the Avastin®... I was then hospitalised again.
The side effects of the chemo were: hair loss and intense fatigue, very intense fatigue.
What do you think of the medical or psychological care you received?
The medical support at Bergonié was great, except during my hospitalisation after the Avastin. A resident doctor thought she was a great oncologist and couldn't see that my body couldn't take the drugs she was giving me, especially the cyamemazine. She decided that I was bipolar, crazy... She didn't fail to inform my husband, though, who took the opportunity to leave me.
There was zero psychological support.
You got involved in a patient organisation whilst in treatment. How did it help you fight against your cancer? Would you recommend that others join a patient group?
I learned about IMAGYN (Initiative des Malades Atteintes de cancers Gynécologiques, "Gynaecological Cancer Patients' Initiative") through the internet and a book given by Dr. Floquet. To my knowledge, it is the only organisation in France that helps women with ovarian cancer. I wanted to get involved in the organisation because breast cancer is well known and talked about, while ovarian cancer often forgotten. When you say you have ovarian cancer, people look at you with round eyes and ask you: "How do you know?" It should be explained to women that pap smears, etc., do not detect ovarian cancer.
Finally, what advice would you give to other patients living with ovarian cancer?
I am not a doctor but I have written a book (in French), "6 months left", to let all women know that they should never give up. You have to fight and fight again with the doctors and the nursing staff. We fall, and we often fall literally and figuratively, but we can get up again, don't stay down. I also wrote this book as a thank you to Dr. Guyon and the whole team at Bergonié Institute. Every day that we get up is a day that we win. I'm working again, I parachute, I went to see the humpback whales... I hope to go and see the gorillas in the volcanoes.
You have to try to keep your body and mind busy. I ride my bike to see the alligators every day, and the smallest flower in my garden, the smallest smile from my students, fills me with joy. I have learned to live alone. In the battle against cancer, as in any war, I lost a few feathers... a husband and my dog. I learned that everything can end quickly, very quickly. If even the knowledge that you are in remission is frightening, let's look to the future.
There is one last thing that I bring up in my book: there should be a status for carers in hospitals. We patients are taken into account, but what about the carers?
All royalties from the book "6 months left" will be donated to the Bergonié Institute.
Many thanks to Chantal for sharing her story with us on Carenity!
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