In September 2010 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage 3b. Tumours the size of a cantaloupe and a lemon were removed. Chemo followed surgery. I survived it all.
I returned to work in November 2011 despite the lingering fatigue.
In January 2012 I suspected cancer had returned. In March 2012, the CT scan showed a ping pong ball-sized lesion on my colon and another spot on my lung. Chemo resumed in April and by August I was done. Bald again. But alive.
I write about my new life… I no longer work. Now I work hard to rebuild my body and keep my mind alive. Here’s to good health and a good life.
Update June 2014
I enjoyed more than a year of remission until November 2013 when fatigue struck again and my CA 125 started to rise. By the spring a CT scan discovered cancer inside my liver and lungs. I resumed chemo in March 2014 (cisplatin and gemcitabine). In May, a CT scan discovered the tumours had shrunk but was that something new…?
The something new turned out to be scar tissue. Chemo was tough and after five sessions I was done. In August, preparing to join a clinical PARP inhibitor trial, I had a CT scan and another CA 125. Low and behold, the tumours in my lungs had shrunk but the one in my liver had doubled in size. My CA 125 had climbed to 45. All that after 5 months of chemo.
In September the CA 125 jumped to 246. I went to a liver specialist who suggested radio-frequency ablation to zap my tumour. I’m waiting for that now and another CT scan, CA 125 and finally, another round of chemo. It will be my fourth in four years.
Update February 2015
In October 2014, the CA 125 was 459. The CT scan agreed that cancer was progressing. No liver ablation now. More tumours in the liver. A large new tumour below the liver. New growth in the lungs. A month later the CA 125 jumped to 820. Time for chemo. Caelyx started in November, a monthly infusion. By early December, the CA 125 reversed its climb: 740 and a month later, it dropped again to 270.
Update May 2015
Caelyx stopped working after four months. By the end of February 2015, my CA 125 jumped back up to 480. I had my last Caelyx in early March. A CT scan showed mixed results… tumours in my lungs shrunk, only to be replaced by new ones. New tumours in my liver. “Lucy”, the big tumour on my right abdomen had stabilized.
The timing wasn’t bad. I was now able to join the ARIEL2 clinical trial using Rucaparib, one of the new PARP inhibitor drugs. A month of preparation — blood work, another CT scan, biopsy, genetic coding of the biopsy results and my first tumour from 2010. Meanwhile, my CA 125 was jumping. April 2 – 1,200. Two weeks later – 2,000. Another two weeks – 3,300.
I’m now awaiting the first CA 125 since I started the trial.
Update July 2015
The journey carries on. A month after starting the clinical trial I was eager to see if the new magic drug had done it’s job and dragged down the CA 125. Alas, that was not the case. On May 15, 2015, the tumour marker had more than doubled — 7,200. “It just may be that you have so many dead cancer cells flowing in your system,” said the clinical trial nurse. “Oh it could be that your tumours have mutated at different rates and some are emitting more of the protein than others.” None of it seemed to make sense. I was discouraged. Let’s wait another month for the next results.
On June 22, 2015, I told myself not to worry about the CA 125. Even if it was higher, even if it was much higher. Maybe it didn’t matter anymore. When I glanced at the page I didn’t understand. I was expecting the number to drop. And if it didn’t drop it would be small increase from 7,200. But it wasn’t any of that. It was 9,100. And it had only been 2,400 at diagnosis. Did this mean I was the sickest I had ever been?
“No, that’s not what it means,” said the oncologist. “At this stage of your disease, the CA 125 doesn’t mean that much anymore.” So why do we still do it? I asked myself.
Life Before Cancer
Writing has been at the core of my life since I wrote a book in grade 2. It was a very small book, about 1″ x 2″. I managed to write about each of my friends in very small handwriting. I’m sure it’s still in the memory box somewhere.
My mother assured me that “writers don’t make any money… and neither do actors”. Journalism seemed the way to get paid for writing. After most of two years studying Broadcast Journalism at the BC Institute of Technology, I began reporting news for CKWX Radio, the country music station in Vancouver where Roy Jacques led the newsroom.
After five years of reporting on city council meetings, murder trials, prison riots and lots of fires, (“This is Rochelle van Halm for CKWX News”) my dream of reporting on television had not been realized. I started writing freelance for magazines — Canadian Business, BC Business, Canadian Living, UNIXWorld, Westworld, Today’s Bride. I wrote about business, travel, weddings… whatever paid or had travel associated with, I managed to write about.
In 1985 I joined the EXPO 86 Corporation as senior staff writer where we wrote more than a million words — four versions of the official guidebook, editorials for EXPO CEO Jim Pattison and the opening remarks for Prince Charles when he visited with Princess Diana. A long time ago.
In 1989 I took on my biggest role as mother, the job I was least prepared for. Three years later my family was complete with my second child. I was grateful to have been a full-time mom but all good things come to an end.
I joined Placer Dome as communications specialist, writing the employee newsletter, and travelled to gold mines in Ontario, Manitoba, Nevada and Australia.
Creo, Vancouver’s high-tech darling, was my next employer, as media relations manager. I traveled to trade shows in the US and Europe. Eventually Kodak bought out Creo and I looked for work again.
At BC Hydro I found many challenges (and great titles), first as Communications and Stakeholder Leader, then Intranet Manager and finally, Stakeholder Engagement Advisor.
Then cancer entered my life. My professional working life ended three years ago but now I’m a writer again. And even cancer can’t take that away.