Archive for Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Local woman cancer free for 12 years

May 1, 2002

When she was 25 years old, Amy Wright went to the doctor thinking she could be pregnant with her second child.

"I had a lot of pressure in the stomach area," she said. "I just thought I might be pregnant."

But it wasn't the good news of a new baby Wright got from the doctor after her pelvic exam in September of 1990.

"He told me I had a growth," she said. "I had an ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit."

Doctors removed the cyst the next day, but she said they were concerned with its appearance and sent it to be tested.

"None of the pathologists around here knew what it was," she said.

After days of waiting for the test results, Wright finally found out she had malignant immature taratoma, a rare form of ovarian cancer.

"I knew I had it, even before they told me," she said. "I just had the feeling something wasn't right."

When she was diagnosed, Wright said only about 25 other women in the United States had malignant immature taratoma, which usually occurs in young women between the ages of 19 and 25.

"No one knew anything about it then," she said. "I've never met anybody with the same kind of cancer I had."

Wright said she thought her cancer diagnosis was an automatic death sentence.

"I couldn't think of anybody that had survived cancer," she said. "The only people I knew that had cancer had died."

But Wright began six months of chemotherapy to combat the rare form of cancer, which she said was difficult.

"It was terrible," she said. "They told me I'd probably lose my hair sometime in October. But I lost my hair a few days after the first treatment. I'd wake up and find hair all over my pillow.

"That was probably the hardest thing, wearing a wig, because then everybody knew," she said.

The chemotherapy treatments, she said, also made her ill.

"I was so deathly sick," she said "After the second treatment, I told my husband I wasn't doing it anymore, I'd rather die."

But Wright said she made it through the treatments with the support of her family and friends.

"It's harder on your family and friends than it is you," she said. "But they were very supportive.

"My family was always positive," she said. "I didn't know if I was going to live or die, but my husband would never let me think negatively."

To help cope with the cancer, Wright and a few other women began a cancer support group in 1991.

"Back then no one talked about it," she said. "I didn't know anybody had survived. But people would come up to me on the street and tell me they had had cancer.

"Then five women within 10 to 12 blocks of my house found out they had cancer about the same time I did," she said. "So we started the cancer support group."

With the help of the support group, Wright began Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society's fundraiser for cancer research, in Baldwin in the early 1990s and organized it for three years.

"There wasn't the awareness back then. We tried to get more people to talk about it and raise money for it," she said. "We thought that would be easier to do in a small community. Everybody knows everybody here."

She said she's pleased to see the support for Relay for Life grow each year.

"It's getting bigger and bigger each year. Each year there are more teams and more money," she said. "It makes you feel good."

Wright, who has been cancer free for about 12 years, said one of her favorite parts of fundraising event is watching cancer survivors walk around the track lined with luminaries in honor of survivors as well as in memory cancer victims.

"It's really neat to see how many people out there are surviving," she said. "It's a life-changing experience. You look at life totally different and you live each day as if you may not have tomorrow."

She said the number of survivors will continue to increase as long as the support for cancer awareness continues.

"I'm still hoping in my lifetime that there's a cure," she said. "I think we can keep up the awareness if we talk about it."

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