Stef’s father Greg first met Betsy and her husband Darren at the Jingle Bell Run fundraiser. This is a wonderful event that raises funds and awareness for ovarian and lung cancers. Stef Ripple has been honored to be a part of this event for over 5 years.
I met up with Betsy and her husband at a local coffee shop and was so grateful for their time and their willingness to share their story in hopes that something resonates with another woman, leading to an early diagnosis. There is still no diagnostic screening for ovarian cancer; which means sharing these stories are so important.
Betsy began her story by sharing how running helped her in many ways.
Betsy shared that she got into running because her older brother Grant, died of a fatal heart attack in 2015. “I wanted to do something for him so I thought running would be attainable even though I never really ran before” In an effort to attain her goal she joined a running group at Pip Moyer and followed an on-line coaching schedule, and decided to make the Jingle Bell her goal, even though it was for cancer. She looks back now and thinks maybe a little foreshadowing. She joined Annapolis Striders in April of 2016 and did her first 10K with the American Heart Association in June of 2016. Through training with the Striders, she was able to run various 10k races (Father’s Day and Cold Turkey), the Valentine’s Day 5K and the Half Marathon in 2018.
Unfortunately Betsy was unable to run for a few years due to the pandemic, her mother’s illness and then her diagnosis. She was however able to walk/run the Jingle Bell Run in 2022 with her husband along side of her.
Betsy’s journey really started in September of 2015 when her mother moved in with her. Betsy became her mother’s caregiver for 6 years before she passed away in 2021. Betsy was honored to take care of her mother but admits it was a time that she put her own health on hold. “I honestly loved taking care of her, having her live with me and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. She was my best friend”.
In February of 2021 Betsy felt a “flutter” in her ovary. It was a brief flutter, with no discomfort, so she didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until May of that year that she started to notice some discomfort that came and went. It was just a dull ache, but looking back she admits to a back ache that she had for years. She attributed it to sitting at a computer or from running.
Looking back she can recall a few other things that in hindsight may have been signs as well. Her mother had made a comment to her that she looked fat in a tight fighting turtle neck. Although Betsy agreed that she was bloated she brushed it off as not getting enough exercise or possibly due to menopause.
Although Betsy started menopause in 2010 and did experience bloating she was still convinced that a combination of the pandemic, caregiving, and a poor diet, including red wine was the culprit for her symptoms.
In June is when Betsy first felt a hardness in her abdomen. She was still experiencing pain and discomfort with longer durations and more intensity. Eventually it became a dull ache that lasted most of the day. Upon discovering the lump she placed a call to her gynecologist and was told that the next available appointment was in August. Betsy took matters into her own hands and sought care at Patient First on West Street in Annapolis, MD. The provider she saw that day confirmed a hardness in her abdomen and sent her to Chesapeake Imaging. She received the results that evening that the mass looked to be malignant and was most likely ovarian cancer.
Betsy said that upon learning of her pending diagnosis she was given a list of surgeons to contact for further diagnosis and treatment. The first surgeon she called referred her to Dr. Im, at Mercy Medical Center. She made contact with him on June 7th, was scheduled for an appointment on June 8th and surgery was scheduled for June 23rd. Chemotherapy was started on August 4th and completed on November 24th of 2021.We often focus on the patient prior to and during treatment but having her husband Darren at the meeting was such a wonderful opportunity to to gain some insight into his experience with his wife’s cancer.
I asked Darren if prior to her diagnosis did he notice any changes in her health. He said that honestly he did not. “Betsy was wrapped up in her mom’s failing health. She was tired but also edgy. Not surprising considering her circumstances”. He went on to say that she was working full time but also available to her mother day and night. He believes that stress, poor diet, alcohol and lack of rest may all have been contributing factors to her cancer.
I also asked him if he had any advice for spouses as they navigate this journey. “Be with them, at every chance you can.” Darren was fortunate enough to take leave using the Family Medical Leave Act. He was able to focus solely on Betsy’s care. He accompanied her to every appointment and every chemo treatment. He did most household chores so that Betsy could focus on her recovery. “I was her sounding board”. Between tears and laughter, Darren did his best to lift her spirits and remind her of all the joyful times they shared; with many more to come.
Currently Betsy is cancer free and doing her best to live a healthier lifestyle. She has joined an online cancer group that is run by a board certified naturopathic doctor who helps with diet, sleep, exercise and stress. Betsy also makes sure that she takes appropriate supplements, drinks plenty of water, consumes very little alcohol, limits her sugar intake, rides her horse often and continues with her regular check ups with her doctor. “My health took a backseat when I was taking care of my mother and now I pay attention to my health”.
I asked her if she had any advice for other women and she said to listen to your body no matter how subtle the signs and symptoms are. Not every woman will experience all the symptoms but do not ignore bloating, loss of appetite, getting full quickly, painful sex or a dull pain in your abdomen. Talk to your Doctor immediately and demand an ultrasound.
We wrapped up our time together with some beautiful pictures and joyful smiles.
If you have a story to share in hopes of helping other women please reach out to Stef Ripple.
~Wendy Preslan (Community Outreach Coordinator)