Life Day

February 15, 2011

By Samantha Lockwood, Vice President, HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation Board of Directors

It’s February in the middle of a cold winter.  It’s the time of year when most of my friends are yearning for spring so we can get out and climb or ride bikes or go for a long walk without putting on fifteen layers of clothing.  This year, I’m yearning for a roof deck, as well.  But this time of year I always stop and take some time to reflect about what I do have, even in the dead of winter.  Anniversaries force reflection even if you try to ignore them; the memories sneak up on you.

February 16, 2005 was a day that changed my life.  I went in for routine surgery to have an ovarian cyst removed, and everything changed.  I had started out the year on a mission to get my life in order:  pay my bills on time, get to work 30 minutes early, and get all of my annual medical checkups done.  First up was the gynecologist.  He felt a mass and suggested I go for an ultrasound.  The ultrasound led to an MRI, which led to the recommendation for elective surgery, but no one said it was urgent.  No one thought it was cancer.  In fact, my doctor told me that I was too young for cancer.  I was 30 years old.  Through a series of crazy good luck occurrences, I found my way to a specialist.  A climbing friend, who was also a doctor, strongly encouraged me to see the best gyn-oncologist surgeon around because “no surgery is routine, so why not have someone who does this kind of thing three times a week vs. three times a year?”  Seemed like solid advice even though I had never heard of a gyn-oncologist.

It’s amazing how many odd details I remember from the morning of my surgery.  My mom came to Philly for the procedure, and she met my boyfriend for the first time.  I remember the three of us walking to the subway and my mom being impressed that Mark could eat his yogurt while we walked so briskly.  When we left the subway in West Philly and walked to the hospital, I remember noticing blood stains on the street.  I guessed someone had been shot and bled on his way to the hospital.  I remember thinking blood was a bad sign and wishing we had driven 

When I woke up from surgery my dad, mom, and Mark were all there with brave faces.  They told me the doctor had to take out an ovary because “it looked a little funny.”  I flipped out.  I had been adamant that I wanted to keep all my “stuff,” and I started screaming about how they “stole my ovary”.  Morphine is an interesting drug.

No one told me until the next day that I had cancer.  The doctor came in early with two students.  He told me it was cancer, then touched my foot, and they left.  I was alone and confused.  My mom arrived a few minutes later, followed by Mark who told me he loved me and that he was not going anywhere.

So, that’s the story of my “cancerversary.”  I can’t imagine how devastated my parents and Mark must have been when the doctor told them the news.  I just can’t.  I was the lucky one who got to find out while I was in the haze of post-op painkillers.

While I spend a few minutes reflecting every year, I don’t dwell.  Remembering what I almost lost reminds me of how much I have.  Instead, I take the time to celebrate.  I don’t care much for the term “cancerversary” because it has the word cancer in it, so I renamed February 16th “Life Day.”  Life Day is like a birthday, and it must be celebrated!

I love my life, even in the winter, even without a roof deck.  I have got everything I need.  I’m able bodied, I can put on fifteen layers of clothes and go out to ride my bike with my husband, Mark, or we can go climbing inside until the weather breaks; the roof deck will happen someday.  If I never got diagnosed on February 16th, 2005, I would not be alive today.  I was told back then I only had a 50% chance of living 5 years.  It is now Year Number 6, thank you very much. 

So this Wednesday night, I won’t cry over the terrible day that happened 6 years prior.  Instead, I will be celebrating everything I’ve got.  I’ll be eating cake, drinking fancy beer, and thinking about how incredibly LUCKY I was 6 years ago to be diagnosed early and finding my way to a gyn-oncologist for my surgery. 

I want every woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer to be as lucky as I am.  I want us all to have many, many life days.  That’s why I am so proud to help HERA with its mission to stop the loss of women to ovarian cancer through Health, Empowerment, Research and Awareness.  Every woman needs to empower herself to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer and to find the right doctor.  For those of us who have survived this experience and come out stronger on the other side, don’t forget to celebrate your own Life Day with or without a roof deck.

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6 comments

  1. February 15, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Maggie says:

    Congrats, Samantha, on another Life Day to celebrate! I echo you – I love my life!

  2. February 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Steve says:

    Amy, Crosby and I are wishing you a Happy Life Year #6 Samantha!

  3. February 15, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Mom says:

    Even though you make me cry–you are my hero. Happy Life Day!!!

    Love, Mom

  4. February 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Sara says:

    You are an amazing person Samantha! I am so lucky to have you in my life fighting off people that feed birds when I am eating!

    Love You!

  5. February 15, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    Jill says:

    Dear Sam,
    Happy Life Day!! I will be celebrating with you from across the country.
    XO

  6. February 18, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Samantha says:

    Thanks all for the kind words and support. I’m very lucky.

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