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Jan Kirsch has been fighting ovarian cancer for eight years. She writes about her battle in the book Winter Body, Summer Soul. Michele Skalicky has more.
Jan Kirsch’s life changed in July 2000 when she was diagnosed with a potentially deadly disease.Kirsch, who was a counselor at Reeds Spring high school at the time, had experienced bloating but didn’t think much about it. Her doctor found what he suspected to be cancer during a routine gynecological exam. She went in for surgery to confirm it. In a book she’s written about her fight with ovarian cancer, Kirsch describes waking up from surgery and feeling as if a glass wall had appeared between her and everyone she knew…
"It's the first time in my life I've ever felt completely isolated from my family members or the people I loved. I have been lucky to have a very warm and loving family from the time I was a child through my marriage with my husband, Bill, and when that word 'cancer' steps into your life, it changes everything."
As Kirsch awoke from surgery and saw the looks on the faces of the family members who surrounded her, she knew. In her book she writes “the fear of dying attacks me…”
"And so you suddenly feel like that glass wall goes down. They're all on the side of life, and you're on the side of death."
Kirsch writes that she will not try to deceive anyone and say that cancer has not brought incredible sadness to her life, but it has also been a gift. She says living with cancer, for her, is a story of both sorrow and joy. 8 years later, doctors don’t give Kirsch a clean bill of health, but she says she’s determined not to let cancer rule her life…
"I'm going to rule my life, and I'll do what I can, and when I have to deal with it, I'll deal with it and then I'll go on."
What’s helped Kirsch get thru the darkest periods of her illness are what she calls “gifts…”little things people do at just the right time to help her thru her illness…
"I've found that with this illness, nobody wants you to have this awful stuff, and there is incredible goodness in other people, and it really shines through at the times when you need it."
She encourages everyone to be their own advocate when it comes to their health. After diagnosis, she soon came to realize that, while her doctors were an important part of the fight, if she wanted to live, SHE had to give the battle everything she has…
"So, I got involved in yoga, which I do religiously. I got a nutritionist--a woman out in Utah with her PhD in clinical nutrition--I work with her. Dr. Bonebrake sent her all my pathology reports, and she came up with supplements and a very healthy diet that I eat, and also spiritual growth--constantly thinking about that and ways to help my mind help my body improve."
More than 15,000 women are expected to have died since January from ovarian cancer when 2008 ends in less than month. It’s a disease Kirsch says is often referred to as “the silent killer…”
"Because the symptoms are so common that you might think there's just--you know, you have the flu. The common symptoms are bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain or frequency or urgency of urination."
Anyone who experiences those or other symptoms including vaginal bleeding, nausea and extreme fatigue should see their doctor.Kirsch continues to win the fight against ovarian cancer, in part, because she refuses to give up hope. She says it’s vital to never give up hope when battling the disease…
"I think inside yourself you will reach down and find there is great strength that you have no idea you had, and if there's ever a time to pull it out, when you're dealing with an illness like ovarian cancer, that's the time to reach down there and pull that out."
Hope is where the title of her book comes from: “Winter Body, Summer Soul.” A favorite quote of hers, from Albert Camus is “even in the midst of winter, I knew there lay within me an invincible summer…”
"And I guess that's what I want every woman with this diagnosis to reach for is to reach for that invincible summer that you know is in there and that people can always do things that they never imagined they could, and that's what I'm trying to do with this illness."
Kirsch looks at cancer not just as an enemy but as something that has given her a different way to look at the world. She describes it as black and white photography—it strips away all that is not essential and illuminates your soul. For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.