The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Iris's Story.
- Iris Martinez has had a whirlwind year. She has endured two minor surgeries, two major (surgeries), four rounds of chemotherapy, and two stem-cell transplants, and has completed her treatment. Iris is now figuring out how to get back to life, post-treatment.
- "I’ve learned that life is too short and there’s so much we can offer one another."
What Have You Learned Since Being Diagnosed?
"I’ve learned that I can be a better 'me'. I’ve learned that life is too short and there’s so much we can offer one another. I’ve learned that in the past, before being diagnosed, I was very selfish, and naive, and careless to the world. After being diagnosed I’ve transformed into a completely different person than who I was before. I’m really caring and willing to help as many people as I can."
"It definitely wasn’t easy. No part of it was easy. Not even after... It’s still not easy. Even though I’m done with treatment, it’s still not easy."
What Are Some of the Challenges That You’re Still Facing?
"I guess when you’re going through treatment; you’re put on a plan. You know you have to go through this treatment process. It’s not like we’re looking forward to it, but we have this plan set and we know what the next week or month brings. And being done with treatment, it’s kind of like, 'What now?' Getting back to life and getting back to what’s normal. I don’t know what that is anymore. I’m trying to pick up the pieces that I left behind. I know it’s not the same anymore. Being a young adult with cancer is one big challenge. Being worried about a cough or getting sick is a big challenge, definitely."
What Inspired You While You Were in Treatment?
"I would say my family inspired me the most; my mother and my siblings definitely. My nephew inspired me to keep pushing. Just reading stories of children with cancers...even having a brother who passed away from Leukemia at 8. It inspired me a lot to push through and be there and not want to give up. And being only 29 and still wanting to live life, and be married, and live the 'American dream'. My team at Mass General inspired me a lot to push on. I couldn’t thank them enough. I would say a lot of people inspired me. If I read the list off it would be so long."
"The more I share my story and the more I have people reach out to me about their daughters or themselves makes me feel really good. I’m letting people know my story and I’m letting them know that this isn’t just an elderly woman’s disease. It’s also a young adult’s disease. And there are also children that get ovarian cancer, too. It’s just letting everyone know that cancer sucks. Period. No matter what age you’re at, but it’s really tough when you’re young and you have your whole life to look forward to."
What Would You Like to Say to the Young Adult Population About Their Experience?
"It’s tough. I’ve met a handful of girls who have ovarian cancer and we have the similar treatments and similar surgeries and they don’t like discussing it a lot because it really hits home. I would say that I understand if they don’t like sharing their whole journey. I can understand it on the same level. I can say that I don’t mind sharing it and I would love to be a voice for those who want a voice but feel like they can’t for certain reasons. For those who fought and didn’t win. For those who don’t have a voice."
"I do two groups with young adults. One is for girls who just come together socially. They’re not really a group yet, it’s more of a peer-to-peer thing. Then I do the ‘Stupid Cancer’ group. They did their first meet and we are going to be the first Boston Stupid Cancer meet. I’m the only ovarian cancer. There’s 'lymphomees,' which I call them because some girls online refer to themselves as 'lymphomees' because they have lymphoma. Breast cancer. Brain tumors. Spine tumors. We all have cancer and they’re different cancers. We were all able to relate even though nobody had ovarian. I was able to relate to the 'lymphomees' and the 'Leukemia’s' because they’ve had stem cell transplants. When I mentioned that I had stem cell transplants, not one but two, they’re totally amazed because they don’t understand. I’m able to share drawbacks, and emotions, and how much of a struggle it was to the group. They were just a great group. I was able to share about not being able to bear my own children. And I was able to share that with some breast cancer survivors who can’t have hormonal treatment because their cancer thrives off hormones. It’s inspiring to hear a lot of other people’s stories, even though it’s not the same, it’s definitely inspiring."
"I was telling them that I want ovarian cancer, and all the cancers, but especially ovarian, to be as big as breast cancer for awareness. Like to have NFL teams to be wearing our colors and our ribbons. If it were promoted as much as breast cancer, it would be awesome. That’s one of my goals. Even if it doesn’t happen in my lifetime. Even if it happens in some lifetime, that would be great."
What Was One of Your Biggest Struggles? What Was One of the Most Positive Things?
"I think it was all hard. The whole journey was very hard, still is. I would say one of the toughest things that really hit me was the word 'cancer' and knowing I was diagnosed with cancer was probably just being told that they couldn’t give me a definite answer as to being cured. I had to wait a three year period. I’m grateful for that because a lot of people don’t have that opportunity. It’s just the waiting and being told that I wasn’t going to be able to have my own children was probably the biggest struggle. That experience was probably the biggest in losing my voice. I lost my hair twice this year. I got over the hair thing but the hair was a tough process also. It just got easier."
"I think one of the easiest parts of it and what really completed the treatment plan was getting the surgery for my voice and getting my voice back. I thought that was going to be the worst surgery. I had already gone through so many surgeries that were life saving and I would say that I asked him 'what do I say?’ because they wake you up so you can talk to them and they tune your voice correctly. They asked me to count backwards in Spanish. Really? Who does that? That was so random to be waking up and speaking in Spanish. When they woke me up I was speaking backwards in Spanish and I had my eyes covered, and I kept telling them to take it off so I could see what they were doing, because I was scared. Hearing my voice and go to my check-up and sing and yell. I sounded like Minnie Mouse. Now, I hear my voice and I sound like my regular self. I definitely cried for hours because my voice was back. That was the last step to the whole 8 month process of treatment and being here. I couldn’t have been blessed with a better team. Everyone I met here was just a blessing. I released my stories with other organizations and we weren’t allowed to say names or the names of the hospital, so I’m glad I’m able to do this because I can say Dr. Penson, Dr. Clark, I can say Megan, my art therapist was a blessing, my Lunder 10 nurses were amazing. My whole team and everyone was just amazing. I couldn’t have been more blessed."
Is There Something That We Missed?
"It began last year in July and I had my first surgery in August. It was stage 1. I had my reoccurrence in January and it was stage 4."
"I was stage 4 and I could tell by my team’s face that it was very serious and scary. Being diagnosed with a very rare germ cell tumor at stage 4 was very frightening because there aren’t many studies or much they can really go off of for what can be an effective way for caring for young adults with ovarian cancer...even elderly people with ovarian cancer. They started me on my 4 rounds of chemotherapy, and then I had two more major surgeries. The chemotherapy didn’t completely wipe out all the tumors. I still had a mass in my pelvis and a mass in my chest. So after the four rounds of chemotherapy we moved onto the first major surgery which was a life-changing one for me. It was the removal of the mass in my pelvis. Then we moved onto the second major surgery, which was the removal of the mass in my chest which resulted in us having to sacrifice my left vocal cord nerve. They were luckily able to remove all of the masses with no complications, which was amazing. Then I was given a little break and moved onto my stem-cell transplant. The first one I did was in June and I began my second stem-cell transplant in late July/early August. That’s what wrapped up that treatment. And then I had my last surgery of getting my voice back which was a minor one. So, basically two minor surgeries, two major, four rounds of chemotherapy, and two stem-cell transplants. And that’s how we believe that everything will be fine."
I’ve learned that life is too short and there’s so much we can offer one another.
This interview took place November 14th, 2016 and has been edited for clarity.