In 2017, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Leading up to this, my husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for a while, with no success. We had been together for a long time, but always felt like we were too young to have a baby, and that it would just happen when we were older – and ready. But when we were finally ready, it didn’t. And I was stuck watching everyone in my life get pregnant with ease, or by accident, and it was heartbreaking. Then I was diagnosed with cancer, and not just any cancer – but a cancer that would take away my fertility AND my chance of ever carrying a child. I was completely devastated. And angry. And resentful. And it felt like no one fully understood – even my husband. I felt so alone.
Right from the time of my diagnosis, I wanted to connect with other cancer survivors. My best friend had had cancer a year and a half before me, and I felt so grateful to have her by my side because she really understood the paralyzing fear of hearing those dreaded words: “You have cancer.” We already had so much in common, and now we had this too. It only strengthened our lifelong bond. But our cancer stories were very different, and I yearned to connect with other young women who understood what I was going through. I was about to go into menopause at 35 and I was losing my fertility. I was getting ready to lose my hair. I was scared shitless and needed to find people that understood all that stuff and could tell me I was going to be ok!
At the same time, a friend of mine connected me with one of her other friends who had a very similar cancer experience, and we hit it off immediately. She became a cancer guru of sorts, guiding me through menopause, chemo and rads. We cried about the babies we might never have. We laughed about the cruel gifts of menopause. She lent me wings. She told me everything that was about to happen before it did and it helped me prepare. She was about a year ahead of me in the journey and she was healthy, positive and happy and she became my inspiration – “That’s going to be me next year” I would tell myself.
I needed to meet more people like her. I found a support group for 20 and 30 something’s with cancer but I had anxiety about going every week. I went to an ovarian cancer support group once, but I was the youngest person by about 15 years and just couldn’t relate to anyone. It wasn’t until I finished chemo and rads that a social worker told me about Pink Pearl. I asked her why I was only hearing about this group now, but she reassured me that it was still a good time to connect with other women like me and that there was a retreat coming up that I should try to attend. I was sold!
Going to my first retreat alone was a bit nerve racking, but I was so eager to meet women like me that I was more excited than anything. I met so many women that weekend – and some I already knew from other groups and programs. I was inspired by all other their stories and felt a new-found pride in telling my own. I was a survivor too, after all! We talked about everything that weekend and nothing was taboo or off the table. We cried. We laughed. We shared. It was so comforting to be surrounded by so many women like me.
Since then, I’ve attended 2 more retreats. I’ve also attended socials, galas, personal development workshops and recently, I held a cooking class for a small group, thanks to lots of encouragement from my Pink Pearl family. Next, I’d like to plan a social to fundraise and give back to this organization that’s given so much to me. I am so grateful to Pink Pearl for everything they’ve given me, but most of all for the incredible friendships I’ve made and the sense of community I’ve found within this amazing group of women. I can wholeheartedly say that they have been an integral part of my recovery and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
– Lisa Lio, Program Participant