Ovarian cancer survivor leans on family, faith and City of Hope to defy odds

October 16, 2015 | by Allisa Miller

Allisa Miller was 29 years old when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Then the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Miller was determined to fight the disease. She came to City of Hope soon after her diagnosis, receiving the institution’s unique blend of patient-focused care and leading-edge treatment. Today, Miller is in remission and will soon be participating in City of Hope’s Walk for Hope on Nov. 8, 2015.

Here, she shares a glimpse of her emotional journey – and the vital role City of Hope played in her recovery.

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“You have cancer.” Two days after having surgery to remove a tumor in my abdomen, I heard those dreadful words as I lay in a hospital bed.

“No, I don’t!” I wanted to shout. What I do have is a beautiful 2-year-old daughter, my life’s best accomplishment, an adoring husband, an amazing family, a job that I love and wonderful friends. I absolutely cannot have cancer!

My doctor gently told me, “Unfortunately, the tumor was not what we originally thought. It’s malignant.”

Two days later, my family met with a gynecologic oncologist who confirmed the diagnosis. He advised us to treat the ovarian cancer with several rounds of aggressive chemotherapy.

Cancer. It was supposed to be a baby. My husband and I had been excited about the possibility of growing our family, but what I had initially hoped might be early signs of pregnancy (slight abdominal swelling), ended up being a tumor.

I was 29 years old. With cancer.

I have a hard time even articulating the fear and anguish that I experienced within those first few weeks. I was numb. I was angry. I saw the beautiful life with my family slipping through my fingers. I was defeated.

We went to City of Hope for a second opinion. Walking onto the campus, I was impressed. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. We met with Dr. Robert Morgan and he confirmed my diagnosis and explained my treatment plan. There was something reassuring about being at City of Hope. My family and I were comforted knowing that I would be treated by a caring and compassionate medical team at the world's leading institution for cancer research. I needed a strong team behind me, and clearly City of Hope was that team.

Starting treatment was one of the most difficult days in my cancer journey. By starting treatment, I was accepting that I had cancer. On April 7, 2014, at 9 p.m., with my husband holding my hand and my parents at an arm’s reach, my body received its first round of chemo. I cried. I prayed deeply. How dare this cancer threaten my being a mommy to a precious baby girl. I knew I was up for the challenge to face the fight ahead. I leaned on my faith. I was ready to fight this with every fiber of my being.

Losing my hair was another blow. My world had already been turned upside down, and the one iota of self-confidence I had left was slowly stripped away. One day you can be on top of the world, living a blessed life, and the next you are staring at an unrecognizable image of yourself in the mirror. I was told it was common for hair loss to occur 10-14 days after starting treatment. Mine started on day 18. Just long enough for me to hope that I would be one of the small percentages of patients who didn’t experience hair loss. It was defeating. While I would gladly sacrifice my hair for more tomorrows with my family, it was a hard hit to take when I was already down.

Being diagnosed with cancer is like joining an exclusive club full of wonderful members – but a club no one wants to be a member in. I have had the privilege of connecting with so many wonderful cancer patients and survivors. Some have triumphed over cancer. Others have not. I have lost many friends to cancer; each having left a lasting impression on my heart. Having cancer is a truly humbling experience. I was shown so much care, concern and support from all over the world. My friends, my family and people I didn’t even know all rallied behind me to show their love and support.

The care that I received at City of Hope was nothing short of amazing. From being greeted at the reception desk, to the nursing team on Unit A who have now become some of my lifelong friends. They were with me in the middle of the night assuring me, “Get some rest. We’re on watch now.” They laughed with me while watching “Ellen” every afternoon. They looked at me with kindness and tenderness, frequently giving me a silent strength, a reminder that they were part of my team, too — and they weren’t about to let me fail. Not on their watch. They didn’t want to see me in pain and anguish and they did everything they could to make me feel comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.

Each and every member of my medical and nursing teams are truly angels on earth, and I thank them sincerely for being part of my team.

I have triumphed over cancer. I could not have done it without my friends and family, my faith and City of Hope.

Learn how to register or donate to Walk for Hope, a national fundraiser to advance the research and treatment of women’s cancers.

Learn more about ovarian cancer treatment and research at City of Hope.

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Read about our unique patient experience, how to make an appointment or get a second opinion at City of Hope. You may also request a new patient appointment online or call 800-826-HOPE (4673) for more information.

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