My journey began when I was 20 years old, as I was unexpectedly diagnosed with a tremendously rare and highly aggressive form of grade-3 germ cell ovarian cancer. I am now a 21-year-old Ovarian Cancer Survivor and Thriver, with a sincere passion for the true meaning of health, after healing my body via alternative medicine. Instead of listening to the oncologists, who demanded I take their treatment protocols immediately, I chose to take control of my own body. I chose to listen to my inner voice and grow in every way imaginable.
Here is my story:
Prior to my diagnosis, I had been struggling with chronic urinary tract infections (eleven in eight months, to be exact), kidney stones, and abdominal bloating/pain. Most of my breaks during my sophomore and junior year in college were spent in the operating room, in an attempt to fix all of these ailments.
In between the scans and testing procedures, my urologist discovered what appeared to be one benign dermoid ovarian cyst. After the urology issues were handled, I was referred to a gynecologist to get everything checked out. What we found is that one cyst quickly grew to three cysts. However, I was reassured that these dermoid cysts are very common and harmless in girls my age.
Five months later, it was time for my next ultrasound. I was devastated to discover that the dermoids had grown quite a bit larger and would need removal to prevent twisting and rupturing, which can be life-threatening. My gynecologic “team” agreed that it would be reasonable to wait until Christmas break to do the operation, giving me time to complete the semester as well as time to recover post-op.
With this agreement, I was required to go to the hospital each month for ultrasounds to make sure the dermoids were not growing too large to the point of needing emergency surgery. Each month I went in, the larger they grew, and the more serious the conversations got. However, the conversations NEVER revolved around malignancy, but rather around loss of fertility and hormone function. I signed waivers for consent to allow removal of my ovaries if they got into the surgery and needed to do so in order to retrieve the dermoids. Being 20, this really messed with my head and my heart. Over the course of the semester, I made peace with the situation and placed my fertility in God’s hands.
Ironically, in my anatomy course, we were assigned a semester long research project of our choice. Of course, I chose dermoid ovarian cysts for mine. After studying the pros/cons of laparoscopic (four small incisions) vs laparotomy (open surgery), I opted for the crazier of the two. By choosing this, I knew that I would have a cesarian section-like cut as well as longer recovery time and more bleeding. But I truly believed that God instilled something within me that told me it was the right thing to do.
The day I had been waiting for all semester quickly approached. On December 12th, I went in for a standard bilateral ovarian cystectomy. I was pretty used to surgeries by this point, but had serious fear of waking up from the operation without my ovaries. That afternoon, the anesthesia wore off and I remember waking up to my lovely surgeon's face, telling me everything went GREAT and much better than expected. She continued to share that the surgical team was able to save some of each ovary and the (baked potato-sized) dermoids were completely removed. This amazing news made the pain a lot more bearable.
I spent the next four days in the hospital gaining my strength back. Once I was dismissed, my parents and I went to a local hotel, as we were five hours from home (and there was no way I was riding in a car for that long– I could barely tolerate being in a wheelchair around the hospital). I ended up getting very sick post-op, with a candidiasis infection of the mouth called “Thrush” as well as 30+ canker sores lining my throat. My weakness grew quickly, as I was not able to eat much, nor stomach the pain medications prescribed.
A few days later, we made the trek home. What was supposed to be a five-hour trip turned into seven hours of travel misery. Being the optimist I am, I kept telling myself “it can only go up from here.” Buuuuut... that little game didn’t last long before another obstacle was placed in my hands. When we finally got home and settled in, I went to the bathroom and discovered that I was urinating blood. I brushed it off as probably something that typically happens post-op, kept it to myself, went to lie down.
The bleeding continued for 36 hours and by that point, I had nothing left in me. The minute amount of strength and energy that I had left was diminished. I felt limp and gray. By that point, I knew I had to quit lying to myself that everything was okay – I knew it was far from it. I contacted my surgeon and she (being five hours away) requested that I go to the ER immediately. The emergency room staff ruled the bleeding as result from passing a kidney stone. Though I wanted to believe that was all it was, I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the case. I had passed kidney stones before, and this was much different. They sent me home with some different medications to take, but the bleeding didn’t stop.
December 19th, seven days post-op, started off like the days prior; thrush medication, any sort of liquid I could stomach, and lying on the couch. Most of the morning was spent in pain, but I was still playing the “it can only get better, right?” game. Little did I know, it was about to get a whole lot worse. I was waiting to hear back from my surgeon to see what she had to say about the fact that I was still urinating blood. I did anything I could think of to lift my spirits, which resulted in just taking a nap.
I woke up to a voicemail on my phone from an unknown number. I gave it a listen and discovered it was my surgeon calling from her cell phone. “Oh nice” I thought, “She’s probably just giving this to me so I can stop bugging everyone at the nurses' station in the hospital. What a sweetheart.” So I gave her a call back. I was walking into the kitchen to turn some lights on and get a glass of water when she answered. “Hey!” I said, “Sorry I missed your call I was finally able to nap and apparently fell asleep pretty hard.” I was waiting for her to ask if I was still bleeding or how things were going. But instead, she asked me if I was home. “Yep!” I said. She proceeded to express how sorry she was that she is so far away. (Again, I’m thinking she feels bad because I’m having complications that she can’t help with). Then my surgeon told me that they had gotten the pathology report back. I don’t know why I was so utterly oblivious, but I still thought the sadness in her voice was about either the blood or possibly something affecting my fertility. She just kept apologizing and I just kept saying “it’s okay!” It got to the point where she had to blatantly spell it out: “They reviewed the report multiple times, as they were extremely shocked to find an unexpected malignancy in the teratoma we removed.”
She went on and on, but that is all that I heard. My hands involuntarily shook so vigorously that I couldn’t even hold the phone up to my ear. I just kept repeating “okay..” “okay..” “okay..” as I tried to hold back the tears and hold my life together for a few more seconds before it completely fell apart.
The days following my diagnosis brought despair and heartache. Christmas Eve morning was spent with my family... going to my first oncology appointment. We had no idea what we were getting into or what my prognosis would be. It was no surprise that it was only the first of many appointments scheduled in order to explore all angles, opinions, and options. However, no matter how far I had traveled or how many gynecologists I saw, nothing felt right. Before I knew it, I was faced with two battles: placing my fertility on the line AND cancer.
From that point on, I was in and out of fertility appointments being asked to plan for my future on the spot – if I was lucky enough to still have one. In between everything, I tried to learn about my diagnosis. I prayed to God for the guidance and the strength it would take to follow out His plan for my life, rather than my own.
It all started with a book called Cancer Killers by Dr. Charles Majores, which was recommended by a family friend who used alternative healing to overcome cancer. From page one, I was hooked. I finished the entire book in one day (which is a record for me) and began researching like crazy. My days were completely consumed with cancer. Do I follow protocol? Do I try chemo first? Surgery first? Do I try chemo AND nutritional methods? Do I try nutritional methods only? I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew that freezing my eggs, having a partial hysterectomy, and an extremely intense chemotherapy regimen were not my first (nor my only) options, even though I was given that impression.
The further I explored, the more Alternative and Integrative Cancer Centers and therapies I came across. Being slightly OCD, I made many spreadsheets, color-coding pro’s and con’s of each holistic center. I made a lot of phone calls, speaking with nurses and doctors, discussing what they could offer.
One center specifically stuck out to me, as my phone call with them gave me my first giant ray of hope since being diagnosed. Dr. Murphy, at an Oasis of Healing, was the first doctor to speak to me as if I would be able to fight this and keep my health, youth, and fertility. He made me feel supported no matter what my decision would be and hopeful that we could beat this – together.
Before I knew it, my family and I were around the table, discussing how we were going to make it work. That is where my blog, www.joiningjessica.com, originated– as a means to both make alternative treatment possible (as it is not covered by insurance) and also to share my journey with others. I hoped to inspire cancer patients to advocate for themselves, however they choose to heal.
After many hours of research, phone calls, consults, and contemplation, my choice was An Oasis of Healing, the Natural Alternative Cancer Treatment center in Mesa, Arizona. I felt lead by God to heal in this way and I thank Him for pointing me in the direction of this center, as it was truly vital in giving me the knowledge to take power over cancer.
At Oasis of Healing, I automatically adopted a raw-vegan diet, supplemented with quarts of green juices, rich in live healing enzymes. The center provided the meals and juices for us patients, which took a lot of the dietary stress away. I also attended the cooking classes and nutritional sessions in the mornings before treatments. The meetings were extremely beneficial in providing us with the education about how these foods work to heal the body and also how to prepare them for ourselves. Oasis does a wonderful job on the educational aspect, helping patients understand WHAT they are doing and WHY they are doing it.
Aside from the nutritional standpoint, I received many therapies including: intravenous high-dose vitamin C infusions, B-17 injections, colon hydrotherapy, blood ozone therapy, lymphatic drainage therapy, insulin potentiated chemotherapy, infrared sauna, coffee enemas, and myofascial release. The combination of step 1: killing the cancer, step 2: getting rid of the die off and built up toxins, and step 3: putting in high quality essential nutrients, completely restored my body. My follow up PET scan after 7 weeks of treatment was mainly to see how well the therapies were working. My family and I really just hoped for progression in the right direction, but we were all blown away to see... NOTHING. No cancer. I was cancer free!
Through my time at Oasis and my own research, I have learned what cancer really is at a cellular level. I've learned how to live a lifestyle that wards cancer naturally and prevents it from actually returning. I’ve been cancer free for a year and a half now and I am confident that even it would ever return, I am no longer afraid of it.
There were good days, sunny days, boring days, easy days, and really really hard days. But every day I woke up without regrets. It was a journey of healing and loving myself completely. Never once did I think “I wish I had taken the other route,” because I believed in my treatment plan wholeheartedly. Something inside me just knew it was going to work. Learning how to turn the fear associated with the word cancer into unending faith was the most powerful asset to my healing. I think that is the most important as a cancer patient; making sure the decision made is the decision YOU feel best about. Not your relatives, doctors, friends, or teachers – YOU.
"I think there’s something really humbling and mysterious and beautiful about how as a human I always try to put God’s capabilities in a box and how, in the most loving way, He always rips it up.”
Three years ago we were planning survival, today we’re planning a wedding.
Today was another oncology check-up, but no matter how far out I get, they always have a way of bringing me right back to a place of humility and gratitude. My blood work is not only clean/normal, my tumor markers are shrinking even within the normal range... <35 = Normal, I am at an 8!
I thought one day I’d stop sharing about this journey, but someone once told me “The worst thing you can do is let what was once a miracle become expected, unappreciated, and ordinary.”
So I’ll continue to be on my knees, in awe of God’s glory and I’ll continue to embrace each day with open arms, admiring His grace in the most unexpected places.