U. Alabama-Huntsville softball star diagnosed with cancer

By Thomas Durnie

The Exponent, U. Alabama-Huntsville via UWIRE

“You’re pregnant.”

To many women, these words are followed by a feeling of joy and relief; but what if you’re a 20-year-old college student who has never had sex? To Emily Roach, these words did not strike a feeling of happiness, but rather feelings of fear, panic and confusion.

On Aug. 3, 2010, Emily was on her way in for a routine shoulder surgery, a side effect of being a star softball player. The hospital requires that prior to any surgery, all women undergo a pregnancy test. Since she had never been involved sexually, she thought nothing of it—simply one more test before she could have her much-needed shoulder surgery.

But the news she received from that test would change her life forever. After her urine test, the lab technician returned to Emily and asked if there was any chance she could be pregnant.

“I laughed in her face,” Roach said. “I had never had sex and was on birth control at the time. It didn’t even cross my mind.”

Her mother, a retired nurse, was able to get Emily into the gynecologist immediately. She took a blood test, which also showed that she was pregnant. In the back of her mind, Emily was going over the possibilities.

“How could this happen? Was it possible? Was I raped? I couldn’t understand how this was possible,” Roach said.

Wanting answers, the doctor went over the only possible scenarios.

“She said either you’re pregnant, or you have a tumor,” the softball player said. Obviously, not the two scenarios she wanted to hear.

Distraught, Roach went home. She would have to wait two days before taking more tests to determine which of the two scenarios it was.

After the second round of blood tests, Roach received the bad news. She recalls, “They said that I wasn’t pregnant, but that I would have to wait another week to come back and take more tests to see if my HCG levels had gone down.”

HCG is the hormone that indicates pregnancy, but it can also indicate if there is a tumor present within the reproductive system.

After another week, Roach returned to the hospital for yet another round of tests. Her HGC levels had not gone down. After another two days, she went back to the gynecologist and underwent ultrasounds and CT scans. These tests showed that she had a cyst on one of her ovaries—not uncommon for a woman of her age.

She was scheduled to have surgery to remove the cyst from her ovary. However, during the operation, the doctor realized that the cyst was too tangled up with her ovary to remove it. Her entire ovary had to be removed.

A week later, Roach returned to the doctor for her follow-up exam.

“I didn’t really understand what the doctor was saying,” Roach said. “I thought he said I might have cancer, but he was really telling me I had cancer.”

Her mother called the doctor for clarification. “My mom found out on a Thursday, but felt so terrible about it she didn’t actually tell me until Sunday,” Roach said. “That was the only day I was really upset.”

After more waiting, she was sent to an ovarian cancer specialist. He told her that she had gonadoblastoma, a rare form of ovarian cancer. The doctor told her that if this form of cancer manifests in one ovary, it usually infects the other one as well.

Roach had to prepare herself for the fact that she might have to have her other ovary removed, meaning she would be unable to have her own children.

“I was upset,” Roach said. “I don’t want to have kids now, but I’ve always wanted to have kids of my own someday.”

She was also told that she may have another, more fatal form of cancer. If this was the case, she would have to begin chemotherapy immediately.

Once again, Roach had more tests. This time, they came back with more positive results.

“The doctor told me that he thinks it is a less dangerous form of cancer,” Roach said. “Since he caught it so soon and took the whole ovary out . . . everything [might be] okay.”

After several weeks of tests, waiting, more tests, and more waiting, good news finally came. She still has a long road ahead of her, with second opinions, third opinions and bi-annual checkups and tests, but for Roach, the worst is over.

“At first, I didn’t really believe him,” she said. “I didn’t believe it could just be that easy.”

For now, Roach can concentrate on school and softball, as she has for the past four years. It will be a trying time for her as she continues to see doctors and specialists, but her resilient spirit and her faith in God will undoubtedly pull her through.

Emily’s last month has been a harrowing experience. Her strength and perseverance is an inspiration to everyone who knows her and to anyone who hears her story.

Read more here: http://exponent.uah.edu/?p=2773
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