On this, the first of September, the first day of Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, I want to share the story of a very dear friend, prayer and business partner, Chami Strain Kane.
Chami is a strong, sweet woman – an ovarian cancer survivor who, through God’s grace and mercy, has been victorious over this cancer twice. Like most cancer stories, it’s a roller coaster ride, but there are so many blessings to be found in her story. I’m so thankful to call her a friend and Soul Sista ~ Her testimony is as amazing as she is !
My Cancer Story:
In 2008, when I was 32 years old, my husband and I were going through a personal battle with infertility. We had been for over two years at that point. We had already gone through testing on each of us and had attempted three rounds of artificial insemination to no avail. I had been on fertility meds for who knows how long!
My body was hard to figure out. There were no obvious reasons that we were not getting pregnant. All of our numbers seemed fine.But I was having irregular bleeding. I also started to feel like there was something not right because I felt like I had a “bubble” in my stomach.
In my heart of hearts I was hoping against hope that it was due to being pregnant, but it just wasn’t showing up yet! I talked to my parents (who were both pharmacists) and to my best friend (who was a doctor), but no one had any answers for me.
My clothes began to be tight around my waist, and I started to have some acid reflux after eating. However, it wasn’t until a fellow co-worker congratulated me for being pregnant that I made an appointment to see my OB/GYN.
I was scared at that point. I could actually lay down on the floor and see a lump on the right side of my stomach.
When I saw my doctor, he did a physical exam and sent me immediately to get a sonogram. Thankfully, my mother was with me. This was new to me, and I wasn’t sure what the lady was measuring, but I knew it went from the very top of the picture to the very bottom.
My doctor went ahead and set up surgery for the following week. He told me that I had a nerf- football sized cyst on my right ovary, and we had to get it out. He did not believe that it would be cancerous, but just hearing that word, “cancer,” made my knees weak and my heart sink.
My mother tried to cheer me up by taking me out to eat, where my husband joined us. We sat in fear and cried, not knowing what to think or feel- except fear. My mom then took me for a pedicure, working hard to distract me. She succeeded in making me feel better, but I know when I was leaving her she said, “Please don’t go home and cry!” But I had to go home and mourn and be raw before God.
Surgery day came. We had to sign a form that gave my doctor permission to perform a hysterectomy on me if what he found in surgery warranted it. That was one of the very scariest parts for us because we desperately wanted a family of our own! That morning my husband and I were met at the hospital with my brother, Chip, who had come from three hours away to be with me. It was amazing how many friends, family members, and church family came and waited for hours with Jon. Right after Jon had said, “Well, it must not be cancer,” my doctor called Jon and my parents in to meet with him… He had drained the cyst and had gotten it out, but it WAS cancerous!
Jon and my parents were pretty devastated. So much of that next three days that I spent in the hospital were a blur because when you hear that you have “cancer,” it drowns out everything else. One of the few things I remember is that my doctor said, “If I had known that your right ovary was cancerous, I would’ve removed your left ovary too!”
How close we were to losing every opportunity to have our own biological children, but the Lord spared us!!! Another thing that I remember was my brother, Chandler, coming from two hours away, and telling me with tears in his eyes, “It’s time for you to fight! You can do this!” I could hear the fear in his shaking voice, but I was so moved by his fierce determination that I would come through this!
My doctor referred me to a GYN oncologist, so we headed to Jackson about a week later to meet with him. It was amazing how God worked out the details because his brother had actually been my youth director in junior high, which made a difficult situation much easier. When Dr. Moore walked in the room, he was met by my mother, aunt, grandmother, my husband’s parents, Jon, and me. They even had to move us to a larger room to accommodate everyone who wanted to be a part of that meeting!
It was amazing because I had hundreds of prayer warriors on their knees for me then, and I was able to listen calmly and hear about the “typical ovarian cancer patient”. The truth is that most people don’t discover this “silent killer” until it has progressed, but because of my fertility meds blowing up my cyst, I was only Stage One C, which was unheard of.
Also, my age and overall good health were very rare for ovarian cancer. Ultimately, we decided to go with the most aggressive treatment option because we still wanted to have kids, and estrogen feeds cancer. I had an exploratory surgery done, where Dr. Moore did about 40 biopsies to make sure the cancer had not spread.
After recovering from that surgery, I then went through 3 rounds of chemo (Taxol and Carboplatin), each three weeks apart. It’s not for the faint of heart. Besides the nausea, exhaustion, and other side effects, the pain was something my mind has tried to block out.
We also had to consider harvesting my eggs, but my doctor didn’t think that three rounds of chemo would harm them. In the meantime, I was still attempting to work when I was allowed back by my doctors.
My family and friends were AMAZING! My maid of honor sent me three gorgeous wigs. My mother got me a practical one when my hair started falling out. But my husband should’ve won an award! He got me to shave his head, and he shaved mine the night it was all falling out. Initially, I didn’t want him to shave his head, but it made it so much easier for us to look like each other at home! When we realized how LONG it takes for hair to grow back, my mother took me and had a custom wig made so that I could recognize myself in the mirror and not feel like I was playing dress up every day.
I wish there had been a bell I was able to ring when I was done with my last chemo because it needed to be celebrated! It was a little anticlimactic. I was in a wig for eleven months, and I started sporting my super short pixie cut around spring break of 2009.
We had to wait for a year before we could attempt to have a baby again, and I actually watched the chemo grow out of my fingernails.
That June, Jon and I decided to “put all of our eggs in one basket” and do “in vitro.” Chemo had sent my body into pre-menopause, so I had to get the “super duper shots” to try to wake up my body. I was a polka-dotted bruise! When it looked like we might have three eggs, we harvested two, but only one was viable… and it did not fertilize.
Jon and I were pretty devastated. It was hard to be around all of our friends who had children. Infertility is such an emotional roller coaster… We then applied for adoption. I remember getting a letter in the mail saying they were not accepting any new applicants until they had matched people already in their system, but Jon remembers the check clearing our account.
It was that week when I realized I was late. I took three pregnancy tests, and they were all POSITIVE!!! I wanted to frame them! God was so good and merciful, blessing us with our beautiful Addison Grace, whose name means: “The Son of Man Has Showered Us with Blessings”.
Then, two years and four months later, the Lord blessed us again with our precious Avery, without any trouble getting pregnant, which blew our minds!
When Avery was eight months old, I went in for my yearly visit with my OB/GYN. She decided to do a sonogram due to my history because she wanted a baseline of my uterus. And there it was… a small, abnormally shaped cyst. She took me to her office, and she prayed with me as I cried. I went to tell Jon at his work, and we both cried.
That night when my mother got home from work, my parents dropped by our house, and we all cried. We scheduled my hysterectomy for the following week during spring break, and my doctor was able to move my surgery to be at the hospital where Dr. Moore could be there if needed. I knew if he was there when I woke up, that would mean I had cancer again… And there he was.
Thankfully, the Lord allowed us to find that cyst while it was brand new, so I once again had Stage One ovarian cancer- a miracle in and of itself! We did three rounds of chemo again (Taxol and Doxil), but this time I didn’t lose my hair, which was pretty huge for me. It also meant my two year old and infant wouldn’t realize that their mommy was sick.
The pain returned, and I learned through my physical therapist that chemo seemed to make things “stick together,” but I found relief through myofascial releases!
The Lord was so merciful. Even though we had moved fairly recently and were in a new city, the Lord gave us wonderful new friends, alongside our amazing family, who took great care of us once again. And now I know that the Lord has redirected my path through this awful disease, giving me a passion to help others who are fighting their own battles for their lives!
That’s why I formed Team Teal, which is the ovarian cancer ribbon color. I want to help spread awareness and take back some of what cancer tried to steal from me. — Chami Strain Kane.