“I don’t like the word lucky. I like to describe (myself) as blessed.”
That’s how small cell ovarian cancer survivor Brooke Monyelle described hitting the two-year survival mark, when recurrence rates drop substantially. She is a bit of a miracle, considering the dangers of small cell ovarian cancer, and is hoping to raise awareness. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month.
Small cell carcinoma of the ovaries is an aggressive cancer affecting young women, with an average age of diagnosis at 24 years, according to the Small Cell Ovarian Cancer Foundation.
“It’s a young woman’s cancer,” Monyelle said.
Ovarian cancer can consist of cancers of the ovaries, fallopian tubes and other nearby tissues and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States. Although it’s rare with only about 1.3% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at some point in their life, it often goes undetected until it reaches advanced stages when it’s difficult to screen for, according to the American Association for Cancer Research.
Monyelle, who is a well-loved activity coordinator at Riverside Terrace Assisted Living Center, was diagnosed with SCCO at age 34 in late 2018. She had been feeling a bit run down, she said, but was staying busy. One evening she had a bad stomachache and made a doctor’s appointment for the next day.
She said her doctor suspected appendicitis and immediately sent her to the ER.
“I got a CT scan and they realized I had a large tumor by my large intestine,” she said. “The ER admitted me overnight as they said I’d be having surgery right away in the morning.”
A little later doctors took another look at the scan and discovered the tumor was a 13-centimeter mass on her right ovary. She underwent surgery and was later diagnosed with SCCO.
As her family began research on what to do next, her twin sister, Brittany Caple, found a Facebook group and an oncologist known for his treatments of the disease in Cincinnati. Brooke and her husband, Cody, met the doctor and followed through with chemotherapy, a couple surgeries and finally a stem cell transplant, starting in December 2018.
She was considered in remission August 2019, right after she completed the stem cell transplant.
Through it all her husband stayed by her side, often playing her music and talking to her when she couldn’t respond.
Monyelle credits the aggressive treatment, faith and inspiring pictures of her nieces and nephews for her survival.
“And I’m stubborn,” she added.
Monyelle found another group to inspire and love—the Facebook-based support group for women with small cell ovarian cancer. Sadly, many of them have passed away.
“One woman died who was 18,” she said. “A lot of moms reach out to me and encourage me to reach out to their daughters.”
Monyelle also promotes education and women being proactive. She said a pap smear doesn’t detect ovarian cancer.
“It’s only detected by a blood test and you have to request it from your doctor,” she added.
Women with any symptoms, she said, should get checked out.
According to the Mayo Clinic at mayoclinic.org, signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer can include abdominal bloating or swelling, quickly feeling full when eating, weight loss, discomfort in the pelvic area, fatigue, back pain, constipation and a frequent need to urinate.
With her health on the upswing, Monyelle hopes to do some fundraising to boost research efforts. She would like to have an event in the future such as a “Turn your Town Teal” event in honor of the color of the ribbons symbolizing ovarian cancer with some “boots, bling and country bands.” She is also involved with the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance out of Milwaukee.
After her harrowing experience fighting the disease, Monyelle said she has changed a bit. She’s a little bit more open and outspoken.
“Cody says I’m more sassy,” she joked.
She also said she tries to enjoy life more than before.
“Your life can change in a matter of seconds. You need to just relax and have fun,” she said.