Ovarian Cancer Month: Cindy Frey-McCurdy ‘fights like a girl’ to raise awareness of disease that threatens her life
By Kristy Bleizeffer Sep 15, 2015
Cindy Frey-McCurdy and other Wyoming Cancer patients will be guests of honor at this year’s Country for Cancer concert featuring Sawyer Brown. Tickets now on sale. Scroll down for details.
More than anything else, Cindy Frey-McCurdy’s life goal was to raise a family. It seemed impossible when, at age 38, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and sent to Denver for emergency surgery. She had a full hysterectomy.
But ovarian cancer doesn’t know Cindy Frey-McCurdy. Since her diagnosis in 2012, she has adopted the mantra “fight like a girl.” She has a family. She has a wide network of friends and supporters. And she’s made it her mission to teach other women about a disease in which early detection is key.
“As women, we tend to think when we get our yearly exam, and if that comes out ok, then we are going to be fine. That’s not always true,” said Frey-McCurdy of Casper. “Ovarian cancer is not detected through a pap smear. That’s why I’m trying to make women more aware. Even if I save just one life by my story, it is one life I saved.”
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and Cindy recently sat down with The Pulse to share her story.
Tell me about your diagnosis. I understand that ovarian cancer isn’t easy to detect.
With ovarian cancer, your symptoms seem very normal – fatigue, bloating, heartburn, your menstruation cycle may change, your moods change. The symptoms mask those of a lot of less serious conditions.
In 2011, I was having symptoms that were not normal for me. I was very fatigued, which was not like me at all. I’ve always been very active. I worked three jobs, and I just could not keep up with what I was doing.
I was going to doctors, and they were like, “It is just allergies. You are fine. Nothing is wrong with you.” I did this for about a year. Every doctor I saw had a different answer. They finally went and sent me to Douglas and I underwent a bunch of tests. Come to find out, I had ovarian cancer – stage IV.
The doctors in Douglas sent me to Denver that night, and I had an emergency surgery. I had to have a full hysterectomy. They could not do much because my tumors were too small. They said it was like somebody threw a handful of salt in my ovaries. I was in the hospital for almost a week and told that I was going to have to start chemo ASAP.
Did you come back to Casper to start your treatment?
At that time, we did not think anybody here would be able to accommodate what I needed. My mother and stepdad, Margaret and Chuck Woodward, live in Reno, Nev. When I got my diagnosis, my mother flew to Denver and stayed with me through the whole process. Then, she and I grabbed my stuff and I moved to Reno for a year of chemo there.
My mom and Chuck pretty much put their lives on hold and took care of me. They are a huge part of where I am today. They took me to all my chemo and doctors appointments because I couldn't drive or do much of anything that first year.
After that year, doctors thought that I was in remission. I thought, “Oh yeah! I get to come back to Wyoming and start my life!”
I soon found out that I was not in remission, but I knew I didn’t want to move back to Reno. I am a Wyoming girl and I wanted to stay and live as normal a life as I could. I started coming to Rocky Mountain Oncology and I have been doing chemo for close to 2-1/2 years now. It has been a struggle. They say that I will probably have to do this for the rest of my life.
How long have you lived in Wyoming?
I moved here from California in 1991. It is home. This is where I planted my roots and my feet. I do not have any blood family here, but I have great support from my Wyoming family.
Shortly after returning from Reno, I met a wonderful man. I always wanted a family, but obviously, I cannot have kids. God answered my prayers. My partner has kids of his own and God was giving me the family that I have always wanted. That’s what I mean when I say I wanted to start my life again. I wanted to go back to work, but I have not been able to do that because of the chemo.
Still, I am very lucky to have so much support here. It is very important to have positive people around you when you are going through this. You have to stay positive. You have to stay strong, because I feel that is actually the best medicine.
So you will have to undergo chemotherapy for the rest of your life? Is that because of how much it has spread?
Ovarian cancer is very hard to detect, so it’s usually not detected until the late stages. It’s also hard to fight. You can go into periods – I will not call them remissions, but more like breaks or vacations from chemo – that last a few months. Then, with me, my numbers start spiking up. Usually, they say about five years is the lifespan with the Stage IV ovarian cancer. I am on 3-1/2 years now.
Doctors did not think that I was going to make it the first time. Just the beginning of this year they gave me four to six months to live because I was in the hospital off and on for well over a month. My cancer had spread. They did not think that I was going to make it.
Well, they do not know me very well. I am a fighter. I am ornery. I just know that my numbers fluctuate. I can take a little vacation and then I have to start over again. I will do chemo for six to nine months, and then I will get a little vacation. That is just probably how the rest of my life is going to go, but that is okay. I am living, I am able to walk and talk. I can live my life as well as I can. I am good.
You’ve developed some great friendships through the Wyoming Medical Center Foundation’s Angels Cancer Care Program. Tell us a little about the support the Angels offer.
The Angels are great supports. Anything that you need, they are there. They will make you meals. They will come clean your house. They will pick you up and take you shopping.
I have built a great relationship with everybody in the Angels program. They make you feel more positive. You cannot say enough about what they do, and I feel that they do not get enough credit.
For example, when I was in the hospital the first time, I was very scared and very nervous. Two Angels came to visit me. They brought me little things to let me know they were thinking about me. They kept track of where I was. They brought meals and would sit with me during treatments. They gave me hope.
How do those little things, like meals and comfort, factor into the care of cancer patients? It helps you see the light ahead at the end of the tunnel. Having positive people around you, makes you more positive and that is what is going to help you get through a cancer diagnosis. Having positive people around you – along with the love, care and nurturing the Angels provide – is the best medicine for anybody in any situation.
What has your diagnosis taught you?
Ovarian cancer has taught me a lot. Though my illness, I have rekindled a relationship with my biological father, and we are close now.
It has made me fight harder and to concentrate on what matters. I am not just thinking, “Ok, I have to go to work. I have to make sure I have food in the fridge, etc.” You know, all the normal things. You have to let some of that go and live life. I travel more now, believe it or not. I’ve gone to places that I have always dreamed about going.
Hawaii. My bucket-list was to go to Hawaii and swim with the dolphins. Well, I went to Hawaii in 2013, but I didn't get to swim with dolphins until this summer when my partner and I took a cruise to the Bahamas. Without some of the people that I have encountered through this, I probably would never have done it.
Tell us about your relationship with your partner.
I call him my husband. Greg (Moline) and I are not legally married because of my illness but, in my heart, we are married. He has been a great supporter. When we met, I had ovarian cancer. We thought that I was going into remission, and he did not run from me when we learned that I was not. He has stayed by my side, which is very touching because I never thought that I would meet somebody while having this disease. Who is going to want to take that on?
I never thought that I would have a family. I thought I would be alone for the rest of my life. When you are going through cancer, you do not feel pretty. You do not feel like you are ever going to succeed at anything. He has three kids and they touch my heart. He has given a family to me, and that has made me want to fight even more.
Why did you want to share your story?
I first wrote a brochure, “The Silent Killer,” because many women are not aware of ovarian cancer. I wanted to share my story with women because I know what I went through. I know how long it took for me to get my diagnosis. If more women were aware of ovarian cancer, if they were able to get checked, and diagnosed at an earlier stage, maybe we could save more lives.
I want more women to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer and tell their doctors if they suspect they have it. Women know their bodies. They know when something is wrong. Write the symptoms down, note the dates and times and how you are feeling, and bring that to your doctor.
I literally got laughed at when I went in and told my doctor about my symptoms. I thought I was going through menopause. He said, “You are too young to go through menopause. It is no big deal. You are fine.” I was not fine.
Are you scared? Or are there times when you get scared?
There are times I get scared. This is my life we are talking about. But I have to let it go. I have to put it in God’s hands and let him do what he is going to do. There are moments that I do cry. I try to not let that pull me under. I do not want to be that person that it just going to sit on the couch and live my life being scared. Our lives are short enough anyway.
What about your husband?
I am sure he is scared. My whole family is scared. My friends are scared. It does not just affect me, it affects everybody who loves me. I try to be that stronger person.
At first, everybody was scared to talk to me. They did not want to live their normal lives around me because they were scared that it would make me sad. I do not want everybody to just act happy around me. I do not want them to be scared to come talk to me about their own problems. I want my husband to talk to me about work. I want my family to talk to me about what is going on in their lives. When people tip-toe around you, it makes you feel like you are really sick.
I want people to know that I am going to fight and do what I can, but when it is time for me to go, I want them to have a party, enjoy life, do what they need to do. Throw me a bonfire. My favorite thing in the world is to sit around a bonfire. I want them to have a drink and talk and laugh. That is what I want them to do.
In closing, what would you like to say to others who are fighting cancer right now?
I would say, live your life. If you are tired, take a 10-minute break and get up and do what you need to do. You have to fight. You have to stay strong. You have to stay positive. Do what you have always dreamed of doing. Surround yourself with positive people because negativity will bring you down.
If you go …
- What: Second annual Country for Cancer, a tribute concert for Wyoming’s cancer survivors
- When: Doors open at 6 p.m. Oct. 9, 2015; concert starts at 7 p.m.
- Where: Casper Events Center
- Tickets: $30 to $40, available at CasperEventsCenter.com. Money raised benefits the Wyoming Medical Center Foundation’s Angels Cancer Care Program, serving cancer patients across Wyoming.