Sheryl Flowers considers herself a walking miracle. There is life after ovarian cancer, she said. Flowers is beating the odds after her diagnosis 14 months ago.
“Stage-IV ovarian cancer is not a good one to get, and other than hearing the word “cancer,” my life has been enriched,” Flowers said.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2012, about 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and 15,500 women will die of ovarian cancer in the United States.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer appeared sporadically for Flowers while she was a consultant for Millwood Public School. At first she thought the pain was due to irritable bowel syndrome.
“I did professional development for Millwood,” said Flowers, a retired school superintendent from Okmulgee. “I had training the next day and my abdomen hurt that entire day. I thought, ‘There’s something wrong with this.’”
Her general practitioner asked her if she had changed her eating habits. Just some chocolate chip ice cream, she said. Flowers was told she was likely lactose intolerant.
Three weeks later after weekly attacks, she asked for a referral to get a colonoscopy. Her father died during this period after she drove to Kansas to take him to a Wichita hospital. She had one attack during this time.
“There was a lot of divine intervention that I could only do so much at a time,” Flowers said.
She began cramping immediately after her colonoscopy at Deaconess Hospital. A CT scan revealed ovarian cancer. Her gynecologist put her in touch with Dr. Robert Mannel, who has since been named director of the Stephenson Cancer Center, located at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Mannel first saw her at OU Medical Center Presbyterian Tower.
“Dr. Mannel says, ‘We can get this cancer. Surgery will be extensive, but we can get it,’” Flowers said.
Three days later, she endured a seven-hour surgery with the removal of her ovaries, two lymph glands, two inches of her colon, fallopian tubes, uterus, appendix, spleen and the lining of her abdomen. She was discharged to go home after 11 days in intensive care.
Flowers wanted the best chance for a cure, but she knew the statistics for her type and stage of cancer were against her, Mannel said.
“So when she learned about a clinical trial for a promising new cancer drug, she jumped at the opportunity to participate,” he said. “Not only did participating in a clinical trial make sense because of the promising outcomes, she also wanted to do something to help others. Her outcome was very good, and by participating in a clinical trial she took an active role in the fight against cancer.”
The Stephenson Cancer Center research program provides more than 100 cancer research projects supported by over $25 million in funding from sponsors including the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, Mannel said.
“The neat thing about the Stephenson Cancer Center for me was I was affirmed by its reputation and standing within the cancer community,” Flowers said.
Flowers’ CA 125 blood marker for ovarian cancer was at the 555 count before her surgery, she said. It is now in normal range.
“Not only is it such a treasure for Oklahoma to have this resource where people don’t have to go out of state,” she said. “We need to get the word out that they have this resource.”
Today, Flowers is active in an exercise program for cancer survivors at the Edmond YMCA that was made possible by a grant from the Livestrong Foundation. The folks at the YMCA customized a three-month workout program for Flowers to strengthen her inner core.
“I will tell you they have also been a very strong support network for me,” Flowers said. “They know physiology. They know I have developed umbilical hernias because I am pretty well a zipper.”
Her children no longer live in Edmond, so her nearby support group has come from her husband, Ronald, an electronics engineer at Tinker Air Force Base; her neighbors, the YMCA and the Stephenson Cancer Center, Flowers said.
“It really is a family. It is a Y and a Stephenson family,” she said. “Kudos for Dr. Robert Mannel, Dr. Lisa Landrum, the OU Stephenson Cancer Center and the Edmond YMCA. Absolutely without all of that support, I don’t think I’d be here.”
Flowers said it was a mental trip thinking she was about to die, so she has moments of feeling blue. She will think, “When is the other shoe going to drop?” she said.
“Then it is, ‘I’m here 14 months later,” Flower said. Her philosophical mind has helped her to cope with cancer, she said.
Flowers tells herself, “Wait a minute. You aren’t going to live forever anyway. What in the world is wrong with you? Why are you so upset? You aren’t going to live forever. Now you think about that. Make the best of every day.”
On her personal computer is a poem that reads, “God has given me this day to do with it as I wish. I hope at the end of the day, I will not have wasted it for today will be gone.”
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