September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. According to the latest statistics from the American Cancer Society, approximately 22,530 women will be diagnosed with the disease annually in the U.S alone. In fact, ovarian cancer is the seventh-highest cause of female death worldwide. Even with today’s technology, this form of cancer is still difficult to detect, and for that reason requires constant vigilance. Therefore, one of our main goals is to spread awareness, bring hope, and to empower women to be vigilant self-advocates for their health. Remember: every person has their unique journey, from diagnosis and treatment to survivorship, so we want their voices to be heard.
Read on for the full interview.
Born and raised in Indianapolis, first-generation Mexican American, Michelle King accepted to share her personal experience with us to be a source of support and inspiration to everyone in need.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Michelle King, and I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am a first-generation Mexican American and fluent in Spanish and English. I have three small dogs that I consider my babies. My husband, Levi King, is my best friend and together we love binge-watching Netflix, taking our pets on walks, going out to eat, and working on home projects. We have been together for 10 years and I can’t imagine my life without him, my babies, or my family. Currently, due to my health conditions and surgeries I have had, I am not working, but I graduated from college in 2015 with a paralegal degree and have been working in the accounting world ever since. It’s funny how things end up, though! My favorite quote through my cancer journey has been, “Rise above the storm and you will find the sunshine” – Mario Fernandez.
When did you first notice symptoms or signs of ovarian cancer?
Levi and I had been actively trying to expand our family since 2016. In 2017, we decided to consult with a fertility specialist after attempting different medications with our family doctor. I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism and PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) with some close monitoring and constant bloodwork. I had been put on several more medications, injections as well as ultrasounds to monitor my egg production in my ovaries. After two years of monitoring in 2019, I fell into a deep depression and decided to take that summer to destress and live my life without stressing about getting pregnant. My last ovary ultrasound was in May 2019, and everything looked normal at that point. Then a few weeks later, I started to have pain in my abdomen when I would pee and felt very bloated on and off. I also began noticing that my bowel habits had changed dramatically. I had a very regular bowel schedule and it changed to once a week and followed by extreme abdominal pain. I visited my nearby clinic once in June and my family doctor in July. Both doctors checked me out and prescribed me laxatives and did x-rays on my intestines and concluded that I was just stressed and needed to relax.
When did you receive a diagnosis?
By the end of August, I was feeling terrible, and got to the point of having trouble breathing, so my husband took me to the ER. The ER doctors performed a full body scan and found that my right ovary was the size of a baseball and that most likely it was a tumor. Two weeks later in September, I had surgery to remove the tumor, unfortunately, the tumor was cancerous, and I had a radical hysterectomy performed as well as the removal of my appendix and omentum. My Gynecological Oncologist during surgery originally diagnosed me as Stage Three Ovarian Cancer, but once I had a biopsy of the extra organs removed she changed my diagnosis to Stage Two since it had not yet reached inside my omentum, it was only on the outside the tissue.
At that moment, what was the first thought that crossed your mind?
When Levi and I were told that they found a tumor in my ovary and it could be cancer, I felt like the ER walls were closing in on me. I was immediately terrified and started crying, hoping it was all a lie. Unfortunately, they showed us the CT scans and I was able to see for myself the baseball-sized tumor where my almond-sized ovary once was just four months ago.
What did you wish someone told you before going through treatment?
I wish someone had told me to not feel guilty or ashamed of my health conditions and emotions. When going through treatment, I felt shame in looking sick and needing help from my family and friends. I kept my illness from everyone up until my first round of chemo. The only people that knew were Levi, my parents, my siblings, and my in-laws. I prohibited them from letting our friends and other family members from knowing. I also cried in solace and grieved alone, knowing I would possibly lose the ability to bear children.
What coping skills have you used for managing the stress that comes from the diagnosis?
I am still learning every day, but right now just being grateful to live another day has been enough. On my Instagram, I created #GRATEFULTUESDAY, where I try and find three things/people that I am grateful for. I feel lucky to be alive.
How has your mental health been affected during and after the recovery?
I was already depressed before diagnosis but honestly, I am still battling it with medication and help from my family and friends. They validate my feelings and let me vent, eventually though I do hope to speak to a therapist one day.
What challenges did you face during your battle against cancer? Do you still face these challenges?
I have an amazing support system (family, friends, doctors) and thanks to them I am still alive and did not have major challenges. The only challenges my husband and I have are the expenses of my medical treatments and daily living expenses since we lost the income I was bringing into our household. We still live on an extremely tight budget, and once my health is in better shape, I hope to get back to work.
Describe a moment that was life-changing for you during your journey…
Waking up from my radical hysterectomy was my life-changing moment. Before the surgery, I begged my Gynecological Oncologist to please save my other ovary and uterus, because I wanted to have children more than anything in the world. I also told her that if it wasn’t possible to please just save my life. My mother was the one to tell me that I had to have everything removed when I was waking up from the anesthesia.
Is there something that has guided you – do you have a faith or are you spiritual?
I grew up Catholic and was slowly losing faith in God when Levi and I were trying to conceive, and became enraged when I learned about my cancer and lost the ability to have children. As time is passing though, I am slowly understanding my path in life, and am learning to have faith again.
What, if any, would you change about the American healthcare system to further the aid of those diagnosed with cancer?
If I could make a change, I would make it more available and known about cancer genes in genetics. I was recently tested earlier this year and tested positive for the BRCA1 Gene. I learned that this gene is prevalent on my father’s side and all my aunts were diagnosed as positive for the gene as well. Educating people about this is so important as well as advocating for your own health. I wish I had pressed the doctors more about my abdominal pains earlier and insisted on a CT scan sooner.
Did your body undergo any transformations? If so, what was the experience like?
My body weight was all over the place. I would gain weight, then lose 20 lbs, then gain it back. I lost my hair everywhere! I think losing my hair was the reality check that I had cancer when I had my mother shave my head… I had my first ugly cry in front of my whole family that night.
What is your advice for other survivors who are looking to increase their confidence and self-love?
Life is precious. You were given another chance to give life another try. Start living life to make you happy, ignore society norms of beauty standards because you are beautiful and no one in the world has been through what YOU have gone through.
What is the message you would like to deliver to our readers?
No one knows your body more than YOU. If you aren’t feeling well, be your own advocate and be persistent. Don’t let things snowball out of control, get answers to your health concerns, and learn about your family history health conditions.
How do you want to help move humanity forward?
I would love to be a light of hope to others suffering similarly to myself, as well as educating people on Ovarian Cancer and the BRCA1 Gene. I also hope to one day become a mother through adoption.
Connect with Michelle King on Instagram.
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