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Refusing to die

Mary Ellen Dugosh’s journey with ovarian cancer

Mary Ellen and Barry Dugosh pose for a studio photo. The two have traveled a long road, after Mary Ellen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Mary Ellen and Barry Dugosh pose for a studio photo. The two have traveled a long road, after Mary Ellen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“You have six months to live.”

And, so it began ... Mary Ellen Dugosh’s nine-year cancer journey — one filled with hysterics, anxiety, loss of faith, anger, pain, disbelief, mental illness, stress and fatigue — but followed by a renewed faith in God, hope, humor, strength, a positive attitude, acceptance and the “nine most beautiful years with a great quality of life.”

This is Dugosh’s story in her own words. She detailed her journey while currently in hospice in her home in Tiskilwa.

“It was around Dec. 28 in 2007 when I experienced my first symptom. My husband, Barry, was taking down decorations from the fireplace with our granddaughters, Olivia and Nora. When they kept passing me, I had spot vision and didn’t have full vision to see them but had no pain,” she said.

Her daughter, Kate, was home from Carthage College, and she and Barry rushed her to Perry Memorial Hospital (PMH) in Princeton.

After two days at PMH, she was sent to see a neurologist at Methodist Hospital in Peoria who ruled out multiple sclerosis but confirmed TIAs and ordered more tests. Her family doctor ordered a CA125.

A CA125 test can measure the levels of protein in a woman’s blood; high levels could be a sign of ovarian cancer. It’s a tumor marker and the only positive way to detect ovarian cancer. A pap smear doesn’t detect this cancer.

“On the nastiest, yuckiest day there could ever be, I received a call from my doctor who said that Barry and I and the kids needed to come and see him. He wouldn’t tell me anything over the phone,” Dugosh said.

After having the CA125 test, Dugosh said she knew in her heart she had ovarian cancer. Her diagnosis was peritoneal cancer and Stage 3 ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer forms in an ovary. It results in abnormal cells that have the ability to invade or spread to other parts of the body. It’s been called the “silent killer” because symptoms are non-specific and difficult to diagnose. They include bloating, pelvic or back pain, abdominal swelling, trouble with bladder and bowels, and loss of appetite.

“When I was told I had ovarian cancer, I went into hysterics, blamed the doctor, blamed the universe and especially blamed God. I told God I could have given him a list of people to take instead of me,” Dugosh remembered.

Her first surgery was Feb. 28, 2008, at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City. It was a peritoneal “de bulking” — vacuuming of the ovarian lining along with the surgical removal of 50 pounds of tumors.

Dugosh went through six, eight-hour chemotherapy infusions of Taxel and Carboplatin, two of the most difficult chemotherapy drugs prescribed. She continued the same regimen of future infusions with the Illinois Cancer Center of Peoria at PMH

“Chemo is a battle. It takes a lot of support from family and friends and divine intervention to be able to survive it,” she said.

Dugosh went back and forth to Iowa City for a year for follow up treatments and check ups.

“After a year, the doctor told Barry and our children, Greg, Kelly and Kate, that they should take me home and make final plans to prepare for the end,” she said.

Mary Ellen was told she was going to die.

“I got as far as the Quad Cities and started yelling and said, “Hell no! Hell no! It’s not going to happen,” she said emphatically.

Dugosh had an overwhelming feeling she needed to call her niece, Dorth Phillips, in Colorado.

“I called and told her what had happened, and she told me to hang up the phone, and she would get back to me. Dorth said she wanted to talk to her husband who had a boyhood friend from Texas, Bill Buckley, whose wife had the same kind of cancer that I had,” she said.

Dugosh was told to fax all of her medical records from Iowa, and it was hand-delivered to Dr. Charles Levenback who specializes in gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Treatment Center in Houston, Texas.

“Barry and I didn’t know how we could afford to make these trips to Texas, but God set paths in front of us to meet those needs,” she said.

Dugosh also explained when she traveled to Texas, she and a family member could stay at Rotary House International, a five-star hotel with wonderful restaurants. It is owned by M.D. Anderson and managed by Marriott International; it is in close proximity to the center and affordable.

Read Part 2 of Dugosh’s journey with ovarian cancer in Wednesday’s BCR.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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