Ovarian Cancer is the 7th most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States. Roughly 270 mothers, daughters, wives and friends will be taken from our lives each week. Each and every one of these woman have a story to share. Each and every story is just as unique as the woman who shares it. All of these stories have one thing in common and that is a warrior who was called to a battle that they didn’t chose to fight.
Many of these stories start with a missed diagnosis, in fact many times it’s multiple missed diagnoses. This is why we must share these stories and shine a spotlight on the signs and symptoms.Stef Ripple is so grateful for the warriors who share their stories in hopes of helping other women get diagnosed early in their disease.
In today’s fast paced Tik Tok world where we want to get all the information in a 1 minute video, I ask you to take the time to this read this story, and then share it with all the women in your life.
I met Rebecca and her beautiful family in early October while attending NOCC’s (National Ovarian Cancer Coalition) Together In Teal Fundraiser. I was there with Stef Ripple helping to spread awareness and offer support to all the teal warriors battling this disease.
I instantly felt a connection with her and I asked her if I could meet up with her for some family photos and to learn more about her story in hopes that I could share it with others.
Rebecca’s story starts out very similar to other stories I have heard. She shares that she was misdiagnosed multiple times, but believes every step of her journey has led her to this beautiful place that she is able to share her story and connect and mentor other survivors.
Rebecca believes her story started in high school where she experienced bloating quite frequently and very heavy periods that would last for weeks. In an effort to help her through these difficult times, her mother sought out treatment in the form of birth control pills. This seemed to help but she still experienced mild symptoms, but nothing compared to the past.
As an athlete she enjoyed a healthy lifestyle and stayed active after high school. She married JD in 2017 and in 2018 they decided to start a family. As soon as she discontinued birth control, her symptoms returned to which her doctor had little concern and simply stated “we just have to jump start your ovaries”.
Her symptoms continued to get progressively worse and at times the bloating was so bad that she looked and felt 6 months pregnant. She would also feel very full after eating only a few bites of food. She knew something was wrong and sought out medical care. She was misdiagnosed with IBS and was prescribed probiotics. In her heart she knew that wasn’t it but she felt like no one was listening to her, “I felt annoyed and unheard”.
Around this same time her periods stopped and in January of 2019 she decided to see a fertility specialist as her plans to become pregnant had not yet happened. After getting multiple test performed she was diagnosed with PCOS in her right ovary and a cyst on her left. She was assured that cysts were normal, it was not cancer and it would go away on it’s own. She did however begin to feel like she was getting answers on her infertility; she was not ovulating and therefore not getting her period. “I felt so happy that I finally had an answer and was excited to start the fertility treatments!”
Rebecca was receiving routine ultrasounds and started taking medication to increase follicles and increase egg growth. Treatment was progressing and the next step was preparing for IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) It was during one of those routine ultrasounds that the fertility doctor noticed an increase in the size of her cyst on the left ovary and recommended an MRI. It was also suggested that she see her OB again. Her OB did bloodwork to check her CA-125, this test was normal and she was told it was not cancer and that the MRI showed a dermoid. Again another misdiagnosis. She was asked whether she wanted it removed. Initially she said no, but her husband said “let’s get it removed. It’s not supposed to be there”. Rebecca will be forever grateful for her husband’s wisdom and guidance.
Surgery was scheduled for November 2019. “It was my first surgery EVER! I thought nothing of it” That all changed when she woke up from surgery and was handed a card with the name and number of an oncologist. A week later she finally had a proper diagnosis, Ovarian Cancer-Granulosa Cell Tumor. While Rebecca processed her shock and spent days crying, her husband went into research mode to ensure everything would be done to beat this disease.
December 2019 bought her some relief in the form of eating normally, periods returning after a year, and overall feeling great. In January 2020 she met with her oncologists to schedule her second surgery to remove the rest of the tumor and get it staged. A week before her second surgery she discovered she was pregnant, however a month later during an ultrasound they were unable to detect a heartbeat and a D&C was performed.
In March of 2020 when the rest of world was in total panic as the pandemic and quarantine were on the horizon, Rebecca had other things on her mind as she once again was experiencing the same symptoms. She was paralyzed with fear! Surgery was scheduled for April and it was during this surgery that she would learn that the original surgeon cut open the tumor while inside of her, causing it to spread to her abdominal lining. She now knew that she was stage 2 Granulosa Cell Tumor Ovarian Cancer.
Chemo was scheduled for June. Her oncologist knew of her desire for a family and her struggles with infertility so she connected Rebecca and JD with LiveStrong and Heart Beat. These are two programs that help with the financial cost of IVF for cancer patients. She completed the forms and received a call that an appointment had been made to start the process. “I cried for about week, I couldn’t believe it”.
In May of 2020, 21 eggs were extracted from her one ovary,12 of which made it to blastocyst and were frozen. Rebecca started carbo/taxol in June and like a true warrior she finished her school year teaching in her chemo chair. “I never wore a wig and wanted to show the kids that bad things happen to good people and it’s all how you handle the bad that makes a huge difference on your attitude”.
Her chemo lasted from June to September. Treatment days were long and made more difficult because of the pandemic. JD was unable to be with her, however she was grateful for the wonderful nursing staff that listened to her, gave her support , and normalized all the tears that wear shed.
In October of 2020 she received the great news that her body was strong enough for embryo transfer. One egg was transferred on November 4, 2020. They hoped and prayed that it would stick! “It did more than stick-it split”! An ultrasound revealed that they were having identical twins.
Rebecca had a pretty easy pregnancy until 23 weeks, that is when she started with swelling. A visit to her OB led her to once again another misdiagnosis. She was told the swelling was a result of her diet.
At 27 weeks she was admitted to the hospital with preeclampsia and was told that she wouldn’t be leaving the hospital until the babies were born. Her babies were born via an emergency C-section 3 days later. To this day she doesn’t know exactly what her blood pressure was but it was definitely a life-or-death situation.
Her babies were very fragile and sick, but after 4 long months in the NICU, Maggy and Shelby went home.
When I met them that day in October they were happy, thriving beautiful toddlers with the most sparkling green eyes, curly hair and endless energy.
I was so excited to take their pictures and I honestly thought this was were the story would end but boy(pun intended) was I wrong.
As planned we met on a beautiful autumn afternoon for family pictures. Photographing active 18 month old toddlers left very little time for asking questions but a follow up email filled in many of my questions. Rebecca assured me that she was an open book and happy to share her story in hopes of helping and encouraging others.
Rebecca is currently pregnant with a baby boy who is due in late February. This pregnancy was not a result of IVF. I had incorrectly assumed that a diagnosis of ovarian cancer would automatically result in the removal of both ovaries, but Rebecca still has her right ovary. Her oncologist wants her to keep her ovary as long as possible to avoid early menopause. The type of cancer that she has is very rare and will return, “we just don’t know when and it can grow on any organ, not just ovaries”.
I sat with that knowledge for a bit before I asked her the question of how she prepares for her follow up scans. “Scanxiety is real, I do get nervous but I tell myself not to worry until I have clear results that it’s coming back” Rebecca relies on faith, a healthy lifestyle and a positive mindset to take it one day at a time. “Worrying does nothing. Absolutely nothing. It doesn’t prevent or change anything!”
Her involvement in OCRA (Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance) and Woman 2 Woman gives her the opportunity to share more of her story and support and encourage others. Rebecca is also a part of Survivors Teaching Students. This program is an opportunity for medical students to hear stories and learn more about diagnosing ovarian cancer. There is much to learn about her cancer and she will continue to advocate for others and will be vigilant with her daughters.
As we parted ways that afternoon i couldn’t help but sit in my car and watch them. Anyone else watching them would probably just see a sweet family enjoying an autumn day at the park. You wouldn’t see the pain, the tears, the heartache or the fears. You definitely wouldn’t see the brave woman that I just had the pleasure of spending time with. Her openness to share her story is not only brave and inspiring but the impact it will have to save lives is beyond measure.
Rebecca shares this message “Please, listen to your body and keep fighting to be heard. There are currently no screening tests for ovarian cancer. You know your body more than anyone else. If something feels off to you, it most likely is. Keep advocating for answers. “
~Wendy Preslan
Community Outreach Coordinator