Shown above (left to right): Mark Boyajian, John McArthur, Kelly McArthur (sister), Chris Boyajian (hidden), Wendy Tymoff (sister), Chris Tymoff, Michael Boyajian, Pamela, PJ Boyajian and Melissa Boyajian, Stella Tymoff and Dylan Tymoff.
The following passage was shared by ovarian cancer survivor and former Levine Cancer Institute patient, Pamela Boyajian. We are grateful to Pamela for sharing her experience, wisdom, and positive spirit. Because of philanthropy, Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Cancer Institute is expanding its resources to fight cancer and bring national-level expertise to communities throughout the Carolinas.
Reflective Memories of My Cancer Journey, by Pamela Boyajian (May 2014)
Something feels off…
The first weekend of October 2007 was a great one. I taught a yoga class, played tennis and attended a Carolina Panthers football game. By Sunday night, I realized I hadn’t been hungry all day—something felt “off”. Monday morning I was convinced it was the flu or stomach bug, as my belly ached on and off. On Wednesday I went to see my general practitioner who, after examining me, immediately sent me for a CAT scan, which revealed that I had a tumor the size of a grapefruit in my abdomen!
I was told I had ovarian cancer. I was in shock. I immediately called family and friends and unloaded the news. I needed someone to “save me”! What would I tell my four kids? At the time, my kids were ages 7, 9, 12 and 14. I’m not good at hiding my feelings so we decided to tell the kids right away. I was brutally honest. I remember my daughter asking if I was going to die. I said that I would do everything in my power not to. Then, my husband and I stayed up all night crying.
Almost immediately, I began searching the Internet for answers. (FYI: Don’t do that!) The statistics were grim. At that point, I thought my diagnosis was a sure death sentence, until I met my physician and we put together an action plan. On the way to our first meeting with Dr. Tait at Levine Cancer Institute, I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack as he was sweating and hyperventilating. He quipped that I’d be wearing a tee shirt that reads “I survived cancer but it killed my husband!”
I soon learned that I would need to have surgery immediately, followed by six rounds of chemo (three different chemo treatments within each round), each administered three weeks apart. Because one of the treatments in each round involved a harsh drug called Cisplatin, I had to be hospitalized each time.
Above: Pamela during treatment
Finding blessings along the journey…
I was blessed with excellent care and great support system. I had friends driving my kids around, making me meals and checking in on me. I was lucky enough to have had a friend reach out to me that had been diagnosed just four months prior… I seemed to be following her exact treatment plan. We talked often and she explained what I could expect going forward with this same treatment. Fortunately, I was able to tolerate all the chemo treatments and then had a last “second look” surgery before I was officially told I had, “NED” (no evidence of disease).
It was shortly after the last chemo when I really “freaked out”. Now what? I thought to myself, ‘I have finished chemotherapy, so now what do I do to keep from having a recurrence?’ My initial plan of attack was complete; now was my health up to fate? I was an emotional wreck!
Even with the support of caring friends and family, there are certain aspects of going through cancer treatment that are only understood by your fellow “cancer” friends. Let’s not beat around the bush…cancer messes with your mind.
Sharing Wisdom and Hope…
Since I was lucky enough to have had my new friend reach out to me, I knew the value of sharing information. There were other cancer patients who were seeking a support group at the same time. That’s when, with the help of Meg Turner, an ovarian cancer support group was formed: The Teal Magnolias. The group was named for the color teal, symbolic of the disease.
No cancer journey is the same, and everyone chooses to deal with it in very different ways. Hearing others’ private struggles, and having a place to vent frustrations, anger, and fears—that often times loved ones “just don’t get”—can be priceless. For many, the sharing of medical, nutritional, and emotional coping skills is invaluable. There is always comfort in the fact that you are truly NOT ALONE.
Once you’ve gone through something as dramatic as cancer, you just want to help others who will have to face their own battle. As challenging as cancer can be, it can also bring out lot of positive aspects in others as well as our own warrior spirit.
I am most proud of our support group being instrumental in spearheading the annual Stiletto Sprint. Through our desire to raise awareness about our disease, the Teal Magnolias helped create an event that is fun and upbeat for participants, viewers, supporters and survivors alike. The annual fundraiser continues to raise significant funds each year to advance cancer care and research at Levine Cancer Institute.
When you hear the words “YOU HAVE CANCER” it totally uproots you. You no longer have the security and control you thought you once did. It is a very humbling and scary experience. I was lucky that I had a lot of “rocks” to hold on too that provided me with stability when I was knocked down. Learn to accept help when people want to give it and to reach out for it when you need it. Never give up. Be kind to yourself. In fact, be selfish. It is about YOU and your health now…other things can wait. Put yourself first. Someone gave me a plaque that I put up in my room so that I could read it every morning when I woke and every night when I went to bed. It read, “This too shall pass”. For me it came true.
As of this writing, I am still cancer-free!