October 31, 2014 | by Dominique Grignetti
Ryan Chavira was a senior in high school when she began feeling sluggish, fatigued and, well, "down." Trips to the doctor ended in “you’re fine” pronouncements; blood tests results showed nothing of real concern.
But Chavira's grandmother had passed away from ovarian cancer when she was in eighth grade, and the distended stomach and bloated feeling that Chavira was experiencing reminded her of her grandmother's symptoms.
When the bloating gave way to pain, then excruciating pain, Chavira went to a hospital emergency room. A CT scan revealed a tumor the size of a watermelon engulfing her ovaries. Emergency surgery was the only option.
Chavira, now 22, describes the diagnosis and decision on a course of action in this way: “They come in, say 'You have cancer and we’ll be right back to operate.'” There was no time for the diagnosis to sink in.
Doctors removed the tumor and four liters of fluid the next day. That ordeal was followed by a blood clot that blocked blood flow from her knee to the hip.
Then came multiple cycles of chemotherapy. It worked initially, but then not at all.
Specialized care, specialized treatment
At that point, Chavira came to City of Hope. Here, she received specialized treatment for ovarian germ cell tumors, her particular type of ovarian cancer.
It was during her treatment in the fall of 2011 that Chavira heard about Walk for Hope. She was recovering from the first of two stem cell transplants she would undergo. She was advised by her doctors to relax and take it easy, but Chavira wanted to walk. She said she felt called to participate, both to find strength for herself and to honor her grandmother.
The walk became a defining experience for Chavira, who now calls it "one of the most powerful events." Walk for Hope is actually held on the City of Hope campus in Duarte, taking participants past the labs where lifesaving research is conducted – and past the hospital where lifesaving treatments are administered.
On that day, when Chavira walked past Helford Clinical Research Hospital, she cried. She had been there. “I know what it is like to look out from inside the hospital and want to be better,” Chavira said. That was three years ago, and she’s participated in the annual Walk for Hope ever since.
Chavira and her Walk for Hope teammates, more than 50 of them in fact, will also be participating in this year's Walk for Hope on Sunday, Nov. 2. Together, they're known as Team Ryan, all family and friends who have seen her fight and win against ovarian cancer.
As Ryan prepared for the Walk, she reflected on the poignancy of the event. “When you see how many people are touched by City of Hope," she said, "it’s impossible not to find a way to connect to it."
Join current and former cancer patients, their loved ones and City of Hope supporters on Sunday, Nov. 2, at City of Hope for the 18th annual Walk for Hope. The event brings together thousands of people who walk to raise money for, and awareness of, women’s cancers. Walk for Hope is the only cause-walk that benefits research, treatment and education programs for all cancers unique to women. For information or to attend, go to the event website: www.walk4hope.org.