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Deanna's Story

January 14, 2013 - Liz Skoczylas
On Sunday, an article I wrote called "Healthy Living" ran on the front page of The Post-Journal. It focused on New York state's five-year plan for fighting cancer, as well as some of the care available in Chautauqua County.

There are times that I write articles that could go more in-depth than they do... But, if it were to happen, it would turn into a series. It's not a bad thing, because it makes me realize how much one thing ties to another. The cancer article was one of them, because it is completely tied in with other things I write about, including the mini-series which ran Dec. 30 - Jan. 2, regarding the physician shortage in the area. Sunday's article could also have ties to the poverty rates in our area. Articles like that are a chance to take a more in-depth look at things not only going on in our county, but a chance to see what is going on around the state.

Aside from the tie-ins, which I will continue to follow up on and report on, I thought of ties with my own friends and family. A lot of times, I (very wrongly) think of cancer as something that can't affect people my age - It's something that happens with grandparents, or people other than the ones you know.

When I was a senior in high school, sometime in the spring, I traveled to Cedar Crest College, where I was preparing to go to school that following August. There was an orientation for incoming students on this particular weekend. And, there were also auditions being held for a dance scholarship, which I was trying for.

I remember being in the college's dance studio. One at a time, girls went in to perform their prepared routines, while others waited outside the door. During this time, I met Deanna, a girl with the prettiest blonde hair I had ever seen, and a scarf tied in it as a headband.

Her and I talked during the audition. She seemed really nice, but a little quiet. I considered asking her to be my roommate, but then thought I would throw caution to the wind and let the college choose a roommate for me.

That following August, when I began attending Cedar Crest College, (I didn't get the dance scholarship. I'm pretty sure Deanna didn't either.) I ended up being paired with Chelsy, an education major, as a roommate. Chelsy wound up becoming friends with Deanna, who was also an education major and taking many of the same classes. But, Deanna no longer had that amazing blonde hair... She had short, curly, darker hair. Little did I know, what I had seen the previous spring had been a wig. And, here is Deanna's story, in her own words:


"My name is Deanna, I am 26 years old and I am from Levittown NY. I am a two-time ovarian cancer survivor, first diagnosed at age 17 (stage I) and again at age 22 (stage III).

"Around the end of August 2004, I was a few weeks short of starting my senior year of high school. I remember having abdominal pains out of nowhere even though I wasn't due to get my period. I also had a decrease in my appetite which is so unlike me! By Labor Day weekend I had a bad fever and more pain. I also was so bloated by this point that I looked six months pregnant! I couldn't ignore these signs any longer, I knew something was wrong.

"I went to the ER where they did a few CT scans. They discovered an immature terratoma the size of a cantaloupe attached to my left ovary, which required emergency surgery. The mass ruptured though, and so after recovering, I started chemotherapy. It was the scariest and hardest thing I have ever had to deal with, especially since I was the youngest person at chemo every day. I felt so alone, even with family and friends by my side.

"On my 18th birthday, I lost my hair, which devastated me more than anything else in this whole ordeal. I prided myself on my long hair because every other year I would donate 12-13 inches to Locks of Love, and not being able to do that was killing me. I did however find some comfort in my newly purchased wig, which was made of real hair. Who knows, maybe some of my hair was in that wig. Its strange to think hair can bring someone their confidence and a feeling of normalcy back.

"My treatments ended in January 2005 where they deemed me a survivor. Unfortunately my left ovary was never removed, being that I was so young doctors wanted to preserve my fertility. In September 2009 (how ironic) so close to my 5 year milestone, I started experiencing the same horrible abdominal pains and a little bloating. Another trip to the ER and some more CT scans and MRI's showed that my lung was being pushed up by yet another mass. After two surgeries to fix and drain my right lung, it was found that the mass was from my left ovary. My ovary (and of course the mass) had to be removed. It was a rough surgery and a horrible recovery, worse than the first time. I couldn't even laugh while I was recovering because it hurt too much. I had so many visits from friends and family though that it was okay if I couldn't laugh.

"Again, chemotherapy was needed, for I was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer this time. However, this time I was much more calm. I was still nervous and cried more than I'd like to admit, but I knew what to expect. I still hated going to treatments and some days tried to get out of it, but I knew it was for the best. I bought a new wig and again felt better. I had most of the same nurses at chemo that I had 5 years ago which was nice. And best of all, even though again I was the youngest person at treatment, I never felt alone this time. My friends and family were always there and this time I felt it.

"I no longer have a 'why me?' attitude. In fact, I was sort of glad, because if this hadn't happened when it did, who knows when it would have come about later on (which it was bound to). I'm thankful that even with one ovary, my chances of having children are back to normal because that is something the doctors once told me was only a "7-10% chance" and it nearly killed me, for this has been something I want more than anything.

"I was cleared May 14th 2010 and I am doing great. I have participated in many walks, including Relay for Life walks and NOCC walks. My boyfriend of 3 and a half years recently proposed and I am so excited about our upcoming wedding! I see my oncologist and my surgeon every 3-4 months and get routine MRI's and scans every 6 months, and as part of my new attitude I tell myself I cant complain anymore about going. I am so proud to be a survivor of this horrible disease, not once, but twice, and it will hopefully stay that way!"


Although she only attended Cedar Crest College for one year, Deanna and I have stayed in touch thanks to Facebook, twitter and the occasional text message. I am glad I had the opportunity to get to know her while she was at CCC, and it has been fun to talk via social media and see the updates as we each plan our respective weddings.

Deanna is also one of my biggest reminders to schedule doctor's appointments... Even if I have to wait several weeks before my doctor is able to see me. Last February, I wound up in the emergency room at WCA with pains in my lower abdomen, and my diagnosis scared me. But, Deanna was right there on Facebook for me, with encouraging words and stories of her own experiences. When those same pains came back in November, it was Deanna telling me, on twitter, that I better make a doctor's appointment to be sure there were no further complications.

And so, aside from Sunday's article, this is me (and Deanna) encouraging everyone to make their yearly appointments. If something does not feel right, getting it checked out is the best thing you can do for yourself. My article talked about early detection... The earlier an abnormality is spotted, the easier it tends to be for doctors to care for you.


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Blog Photos

Deanna (right) and me, circa 2006, at Cedar Crest College's Relay for Life. We had "stolen" those oranges... Don't tell on us!