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My Story | Margaret, Pennsylvania, USA

Ovarian cancer, diagnosed 1958, surgery and radiation
Uterine cancer, diagnosed 1961, hysterectomy
Colon cancer, diagnosed 1976, surgery
Colon cancer (second primary), diagnosed 1986, surgery

My name is Margaret. I am 87 years old, and I am a 42-year survivor of four primary cancers. It's such a long story.

My first crisis came in 1958, when I was 45 years old and the mother of two teenagers. A swollen foot that hurt when I walked on it, took me to my general practitioner (GP) who, while doing a general physical examination, detected a growth in the ovarian area. I had not been to a doctor since my daughter was born 16 years earlier. The 1950's were a time when women did not routinely go for gynecological exams.

A surgeon recommended immediate surgery. When they operated, the doctors discovered a very large tumor on the ovary, and the prognosis at that time was poor, only a 20% survival rate. Naturally, I was terrified and devastated. However, the pathology report that came back from the State of Illinois, gave a much better prognosis (75%), because the tumor appeared to be confined to the ovary. The surgeon was quite conservative in his approach, and only removed the affected ovary and one tube. I was given radiation treatment over a course of several weeks. And I was left to hope and pray that this affair was over.

It is interesting to me in retrospect, that as open as everyone is today about cancer, almost no one spoke the word aloud in 1959, at least not in central Illinois where I was living. I told no one; my daughter confided only in her best friend, my husband told no one, and my son told no one. The secrecy was almost as painful as the diagnosis. I suffered the fear in silence.

But, I got on with life.

Two years later in 1961, I began to have slight vaginal bleeding. It would come and go. I went back to my GP, and unbelievably, he suggested that I had vaginitus and gave me a cream to use. Despite using the cream, the bleeding continued. So I called my GP again. He was on vacation (thank goodness!) and his nurse suggested that I see my surgeon. He immediately ordered a D&C (dilation and curettage), and found that I had cancer of the uterus. This time they performed a complete hysterectomy. And again, I told no one other than my family; nor did they tell anyone, and again, I suffered the fear in silence.

But, I got on with life.

Then in the summer of 1964, my husband (age 54) of 34 years started having back pain. All the doctors he saw could find no problem. They suggested a new mattress. They suggested exercise. They suggested all kinds of things, but not one of them suggested a prostate malignancy. Finally, in October of 1964, I insisted that we travel to a well known clinic in Minnesota. It took the doctors there a week to find a small tumor which had already metastasized to his spine. They sent him home to die. There was no chemotherapy -- only some hormone treatments, and humiliating surgery. He was my husband and my best friend. We buried him in July, 1965.

And so, I got on with life.

I moved back to Iowa, my birthplace, and tried to rejoin the single world again. I was 52, and lonely without him, but life went on. It went on for 11 years with no cancer, and then, in 1976 at age 63, I began to have bleeding from the rectum. Naturally alarmed, I went to the doctors and they recommended a colonoscopy. Upon investigation, they found a malignant tumor of the colon. I had surgery again, but luck was with me; after removing 12 inches of my colon, no further treatment was necessary. You can imagine how I felt having dodged a third bullet.

But yet, I got on with life.

Then in 1986 at age 73, I began to wake up every night at almost the same time with a sharp pain in the lower abdomen. I thought it might be adhesions, but given my history, I made a doctor's appointment. They recommended another colonoscopy and found another malignant tumor, so I had another surgery. This time my doctor reported that they had gotten it "just in the nick of time", as it was growing into the wall of the colon, and soon would have gone to the liver.

But, once again, I got on with life.

I am now happy to report that since my fourth cancer surgery, I have had no further malignancies. However, I should also report that I have had an abdominal aneurysm repaired, a hip replaced, and most recently (three years ago), I was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor on the acoustic nerve. Fortunately, the neuroma was small, and my daughter, who lives in Pittsburgh, knew of a doctor pioneering in "gamma knife" surgery. So with a zap of a few rays, the tumor was damaged to the point that it began to die. It has been two years since that surgery, and the tumor has been reduced 40%, although I still suffer from dizziness and have no hearing in my left ear. I have also had a plate put into my foot as a result of a fall, and a plate put into my sinus bone after another fall which nearly took my life.

And so, I get on with life.

I now live with my daughter, Carol, who is a member of two on-line gyn cancer support groups, one of which is EyesOnThePrize. She is now also a survivor of cancer, having been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the cervix in 10/97 at age 55.

I hope that my survival gives hope to all those who need it, and perhaps in some strange way, this answers the question I've always asked myself....why did I survive all these encounters with life-threatening disease? Could it be that somehow my survival from the scourge of cancer so many times will help others view this dreadful disease as just another hurdle to jump over as one gets on with life?

June 2000

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Update: On May 3, 2003, Margaret passed away peacefully at her daughter Carol's home, her daughter at her side. She had survived four primary cancers to die of natural causes at age 90. An inspiration to us all!

Memorial contributions to EyesOnThePrize.Org in Margaret's name can be sent to EyesOnThePrize.Org using our mail-in donation form.

May 2003

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Remembering Margaret: