Melonie Dennison, surgery supervisor and registered nurse at Twin Lakes Regional Hospital, sits at her desk in her cozy office in the outpatient recovery. One might not know that Dennison, who is now working on her Master’s degree and has been a nurse since 1991, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 14 years ago.
For months, Dennison had been experiencing bouts of extreme abdominal pain that would disappear for a long period of time before coming back. It wasn’t until Dennison had to go through emergency surgery at the Bowling Green Medical Center due to this extreme pain that doctors discovered a cyst on her left ovary.
Bowling Green Medical Center, where Dennison was also working at the time, sent the cyst for a routine pathology test to look for abnormalities in the cells. They discovered that Dennison was positive for ovarian cancer.
“It was devastating. You know when people say life flashes before your eyes? It does, in a minute, in a flash,” Dennison said, “I wasn’t expecting it. My husband was with me and I was very glad, because I didn’t think I could have driven home.”
The diagnosis came as a surprise to Dennison, who had seen nothing abnormal with her body and no abnormalities from her yearly tests.
“I had always trusted my body and my health and suddenly I didn’t anymore, that was hard,” Dennison said, “It was hard but I tried not to dwell on it, to think positively and not let those thoughts take over.”
Since doctors weren’t looking for cancer during the emergency surgery, Dennison’s cancer was never staged. However, the doctors at Norton’s Hospital in Louisville chose to treat her like she had Stage 4 ovarian cancer, “to obliterate anything in there.”
Dennison was treated with two different types of chemo therapy, but no radiation. After the first treatment, she lost all of her hair.
Despite this, Dennison continued to work three 12-hour shifts a week at Twin Lakes Regional Hospital’s emergency room, the staff working around Dennison’s chemo therapy and illness so she could work.
Being a nurse made Dennison’s experience a bit different than others.
“I’m used to being on the other side, the nurse, and then I was the patient. I didn’t like that,” Dennison said, laughing. “People who know you’re a nurse, they think you know everything but I was the patient and I wanted to know everything, to treat me as such.”
For Dennison, her husband and community were the ones who helped her through.
“My husband was very supportive of me, he was very positive,” Dennison said. “I would get cards in the mail of prayers and well wishes. That meant the world to me, that someone was praying for me. I feel strongly that’s what got me through.”
After her treatments, Dennison’s CA125 levels came back as low, meaning that her cancer had left her body. Follow-ups for a year until her oncologist told her to see her OB/GYN yearly and to get regular mammograms.
After five years, her oncologist gave her the good news.
“I don’t have any greater chance to than someone on the street,” said Dennison about her chances of getting ovarian cancer again.
Since then, Dennison moved from Twin Lake Regional Hospital’s ER to working in the OR in 2003. She says while going through cancer, she believes that a certain mindset and having support is everything.
“I believe that your mind can influence you. I think it’s important to keep positive and to surround yourself with people who will support you,” Dennison said.
She encourages women going through any kind of cancer to find a support group to help them through the symptoms and to have someone to talk to.
“That would be helpful to hear other women having the same problems,” Dennison said. “This is what worked for me because the doctors don’t always tell you about certain things; they’re too concerned about curing you.”