Hello -- it's Joy and this is my ovarian cancer story

Updated: Nov 25, 2019

Dr. P. walked into the room and sat down across from me. The moment I look into her eyes, I knew she was worried. “You have a large mass in your abdomen, and it looks suspicious.“ Even though I saw the concern in her eyes, I believed that I was okay. As she pointed to the fuzzy, unrecognizable image on the gray screen, I stared at it blankly and thought to myself that this didn’t mean anything, and life would go on as is. I could not have been more wrong. The seriousness of my circumstances didn’t hit me until I called my medically sophisticated husband and told him about the findings on the CT scan. I remember telling him that I didn’t think that it was a big deal and I wasn’t concerned. All I heard was, “I am coming home.” I immediately felt something come over me like an unexpected thunderstorm, something dark and ominous. The date was Sept. 26, 2016.

Within two weeks, I became a statistic. I was one of the approximately 22,000 women per year diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was no longer Joy White; I was Joy White with cancer. Stage 3C. Bad prognosis. Months filled with multiple surgeries, life-altering complications, chemotherapy, and soul-searching. It was during my extended hospital stays that I began to crave the silence of the night; everything was still and dark. It was the only time that I was able to be alone with my thoughts; I would stand with my hand on the cold window and stare at the snowflakes falling like feathers floating in an endless black sky without direction or purpose.

My life before cancer had been beautiful and full. I was married to the most amazing man. I was active and involved in the art community, and my career as an artist was gaining traction. I was happy and content. Would I still be inspired to create art? Would I view the world the same way? Could I love and live within the boundaries imposed by my disease? What will life look like now? These questions would relentlessly swirl around my brain in the small hours of the night.

With time I recognized that even though I thought everything had changed, nothing had changed at all. We all die, and no one possesses the knowledge to know when. Once I accepted the beauty and wonder in the uncertainty of life, I knew I wanted to make the most of my remaining time regardless of how long that would be. So for everything that this insidious disease has taken from me, it has not robbed me of my passion for exploring, learning, realizing goals, and contributing.

I come from a modest background. My father was a carpenter, and my mother was a homemaker until she went to work at a factory to get health insurance for her family. College was not an option for their three children. I moved out when I was 17. I took a job at a rehabilitation hospital as a physical therapy aide that lasted five years. I bonded with many young patients, some of whom would never get out of their wheelchairs. I learned humility, compassion, and the fragility of life. I witnessed the power of the indomitable human spirit, and now, more than 30 years later, I still draw from the lessons I learned at Hillside Hospital.

When I was 22, my dad’s employer was going to shut down the sign and display company where Dad had worked since he was 16 years old. My dad wanted to take over the business because he thought it would provide for his family. My ex-husband and I invested some money, and I went to work with my father. None of us knew anything about how to run a business. I thought it would be helpful if I took some college business and accounting courses. It took me nine years of part-time attendance to get my business administration degree from Kent State.

The work at Artcraft Displays suited me. I loved working on projects that were subject to a deadline. When business was good, we had a steady flow of projects from the advertising industry and local and national manufacturers. I gained an appreciation for art and design, composition, color selection, balance, and critical thinking. I took over the business when my father died of cancer at the age of 62. Although not formally trained, I became a de facto graphic designer. Later, I earned my BFA in art at Youngstown State University.

I love setting lofty goals for myself, not for the glory of the accomplishment but for the joy in the process of getting there. I ran a marathon for the benefit of a local charity at the age of 40. I did a century ride (100 miles) on a bicycle with my current husband at the age of 41. I’m not the best at any particular thing, but I am persistent, confident, and determined, and I like to finish what I start.

When my business shut down, I volunteered my time providing graphic design and branding for local non-profits. Two of the non-profits were art galleries, and one was a community art school that offers curriculum-focused programming for visual arts, music, dance, theater, and creative writing. I started taking art courses at nearby Youngstown State University. It felt like home. I thrived in the academic environment. I was able to draw from my life and work experiences and express them visually through what I call constructed paintings. An established gallery located in New Jersey started to represent me. I was ecstatic when a large private equity firm purchased 19 of my pieces to hang in its Houston office. After the sale, the gallery owner said, “Not bad for a kid just out of art school.” At that moment, I felt validated as an artist. I had a couple of solo shows and sold more artwork. I thought I would produce art for the rest of my life.

Derailed now by health issues, I needed to consider other avenues to stimulate my creative and philanthropic aspirations. Creativity comforts me and elevates my spirits and remains a big part of my healing process. I started Knots of Care with one goal in mind, to provide hope and encouragement to women facing the challenges of cancer. It has allowed me to connect with other women and fulfill my creative spirit. As I am tying every knot, my thoughts are with the women that may be wearing my simple bracelets either because they have ovarian cancer or support and care about someone that has cancer -- that is powerful. I am grateful for all of the people in my life that have supported me on this journey.

#makeapurchasemakeadifference photo credit = Boko Photo

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