Alyse Johnson-Considine was only eleven when she was diagnosed with germ-cell ovarian cancer. Growing up in North Bend, Oregon, she was active in basketball, but her parents noticed she had started to become unusually exhausted.
After going to her pediatrician, it was discovered that she had a large lump in her abdomen. A tumor was growing on her right ovary and it needed to be removed quickly. Within one week upon discovering the lump, Alyse had major surgery at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland to remove her right ovary and the grapefruit-sized tumor.
After surgery, Alyse returned home and had her blood tested and monitored for the next several weeks. Unfortunately, the cancer markers in her blood began to rise. So, CT scans and other medical exams were performed. It was discovered that the cancer had returned to her abdomen and metastasized to Alyse’s left lung; she had Stage IV ovarian cancer.
Due to the seriousness of her diagnosis, Alyse had to be put on three different chemotherapy drugs. Although she was scared, she found the courage to fight from the incredible support of her family. She also looked to professional cyclist Lance Armstrong for inspiration, as he underwent almost identical chemo treatments for testicular cancer.
Once a month, Alyse would travel four hours to Doernbecher’s in Portland for five days of in-patient chemotherapy treatments. Though the drugs were necessary for fighting the cancer cells, they were hard on Alyse’s body. During treatment she had to receive intravenous fluids constantly due to the drugs’ effects on her kidneys. She developed a type of asthma from one of the drugs and slight hearing loss from another.
After four rounds of chemo, a CT scan was performed. Doctors noticed that the dark spots on Alyse’s lung were smaller but still present and they determined that she would need to be operated on. During the surgery it was found that the ￼dark spots were merely scar tissue – a good sign that indicated the treatments were working and that they were not tumors resisting the chemotherapy.
In total, Alyse underwent two major surgeries and received six chemo treatments before being declared cancer-free. The experience was frightening but Alyse believes that it must have been much scarier for her parents. “I was a kid so I didn’t quite understand the severity of the situation,” she says. “It was harder on my parents. They had to remain strong not only for themselves but for me, too. I’m thankful they had people to help support them while I was sick.”
Alyse had many people supporting her as well, including other children undergoing cancer treatments. The summer that she was receiving treatments, Alyse attended Camp UKANDU, a camp for children battling cancer in Tillamook, Oregon. That was also the first summer she got involved with Relay for Life, an organization that raises cancer awareness and funding for the American Cancer Society. “I thought it was so fun,” says Alyse. “I got to walk in the ‘Survivor’s Lap’ with many other people who were bald like me. It was comforting to know I wasn’t alone.”
Having been personally touched by the organization, Alyse has been involved in Relay for Life ever since. In fact, she was the Relay for Life event coordinator at the University of Montana her senior year of college. “No matter what age, it’s very helpful for people battling cancer and their families to meet others who are going through the same experiences,” says Alyse. As a cancer survivor, she is eager to support those in the fight.
Alyse also encourages people to be vigilant in their health. Things like regular physical exams can help to detect cancer and other diseases early on. “You have to take care of your health,” Alyse warns. “Pay attention to your body and if you have concerns, see a doctor; that’s what they’re there for.”
If you do find yourself in a battle with cancer, Alyse encourages you to stay positive and ask for help. “There are all kinds of resources and organizations whose sole purpose is to help those battling cancer. Take advantage of these places.”
Finally, make sure to surround yourself with positivity. Receiving support from family, friends, kind nurses and doctors, and even therapy dogs made Alyse’s cancer experience much easier to endure.
“Appreciate what you have,” says Alyse, “and never stop fighting.”