Almudena’s Story: A Life of Hope, Rejuvenation and Strength
Author: Gail S. Thornton, M.A.
Co-Editor: The VOICES of Patients, HealthCare Providers, Caregivers and Families: Personal Experience with Critical Care and Invasive Medical Procedures
Patient had ovarian clear cell adenocarcinomas (OCCAs) and underwent a complete hysterectomy at age 52. Interview was conducted 15 months’ post-surgery. Earlier in life, patient had thyroid cancer and removal of her thyroid gland and all the lymph nodes in her neck.
Almudena Seeder-Alonso, originally from Madrid, Spain, and now living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, with her Dutch husband, René, is the eternal optimist, embracing life, reinventing herself, and looking for opportunity in every moment. She is an influential blogger of international relations issues, a career professional in human resources management in both corporate and consulting businesses in Legal, Accounting and Technology, and a lawyer and political scientist with an advanced degree in international relations who is also pursuing a Ph.D. in international relations and diplomacy. And she speaks four languages fluently – Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and English.
Her story is one of hope, rejuvenation and strength that defines her effervescent personality. One year ago, a routine gynecology exam changed her outlook and perspective on life. She would have never thought that her diagnosis would be ovarian carcinoma of the clear cell, the most aggressive form of cancer.
Image SOURCE: Photographs courtesy of Almudena Seeder-Alonso. Top Left: Almudena’s parents, María and Angel, and sister, Cristina, and her husband. Top Right: Almudena during chemotherapy last summer (2015). Middle: Almudena attending a wedding in Asturias (northwest Spain – May 2016), Almudena and René in Comporta, Portugal (Summer 2014) and in New York (April 2014). Below left: Almudena in New York (April 2014). Below Right: Almudena’s sisters, María and Cristina with nephew, Jaime (May 2016).
A Small Cyst Turns Into Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer
In early 2015, Almudena visited her gynecologist in Amsterdam for a regular, yearly appointment.
“I was feeling fine. I had no physical complaints, except for my monthly periods which were heavy. I didn’t think much about it. During my examination, my doctor told me that she found a small cyst on my right ovary and we would just observe it to make sure it was not growing.”
Almudena went back to her gynecologist at the OLVG (Onze Lieve Vrouw Gasthuis https://www.olvg.nl/) in Amsterdam twice over the next month to monitor the cyst, only to find that the cyst was growing slightly. Her gynecologist recommended blood tests, an ultrasound, and a specimen of the cyst to be removed through a laparoscopy, a procedure requiring small incisions made below the navel using specialized tools.
“The pathology report said that the cyst was an aggressive cancer, called ovarian carcinoma of the clear cell. I remember sitting in my doctor’s office once she told me the results of the test, and I got very quiet. I could not believe that this was happening to me. While I was meeting with the doctor, I called my husband to let the doctor inform him about the situation. I was listening to this conversation but from far away. He immediately left his meeting with his client (he is one of two founding partners of SeederdeBoer, a Dutch Consulting & Technology firm), to come home. I left the doctor’s office, went home and cried in my husband’s arms.”
Almudena then called her parents, María and Angel, and her two sisters, María and Cristina who live in Madrid, to tell them the news.
“My Mother was very emotional when she heard about my diagnosis. My Father, who is a quiet man by nature, asked me, ‘How could this be happening to you again?’ I did not have an answer for him.”
Almudena’s father was referring to his daughter’s diagnosis of thyroid cancer in her late 20s.
Diagnosis of Thyroid Cancer As A Young Woman
When Almudena was 27 years old, she was diagnosed with follicular thyroid cancer, a slow-growing, highly treatable type of cancer that forms in follicular cells in the thyroid gland. After a 12-hour surgery to remove the gland through a procedure called a full thyroidectomy, she also needed radiation therapy. Many years later, she is feeling fine and continues to be on thyroid medication for the rest of her life.
“I was not aware at that young age of the scope of the diagnosis, but my life really changed. I was kind of a party animal at the end of the 1980s, and I did not have any amount of energy for that anymore. I needed several months to get back into shape as the scar from the surgery was a large one on the right side of my neck. I could not use my right arm and hand properly for months, even writing was complicated. The worst news came later when I could not get pregnant given the situation that many of my eggs were gone because of radiation. At that moment, egg freezing technology was not as advanced as it is today; it was not normal to freeze eggs for a later time. That was really painful, as I could not become a mother, even after four in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles.”
According to the National Cancer Institute’s web site, thyroid cancer is a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the tissues of the thyroid gland. The thyroid is a gland at the base of the throat near the trachea (windpipe). It is shaped like a butterfly, with a right lobe and a left lobe. The isthmus, a thin piece of tissue, connects the two lobes. A healthy thyroid is a little larger than a quarter coin. It usually cannot be felt through the skin. The thyroid uses iodine, a mineral found in some foods and in iodized salt, to help make several hormones. Thyroid hormones control heart rate, body temperature, and how quickly food is changed into energy (metabolism) as well as, it controls the amount of calcium in the blood. http://www.cancer.gov/types/thyroid/patient/thyroid-treatment-pdq
Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis Continues
Almudena then spoke with her physicians in Madrid, as that is where she grew up, to get a second opinion about her ovarian carcinoma diagnosis. The physicians knew her history well and they told her that they did not believe that the follicular thyroid cancer was directly related to the ovarian cancer.
“My local gynecologist in Amsterdam then referred me to a specialist, Dr. J. van der Velden, a gynecologist/oncologist at the Amsterdam Medisch Centrum (AMC), http://www.cgoa.nl/page/view/name/34-wie-we-zijn, one of the top university hospitals in The Netherlands for this surgery and treatment. My husband, René, and I met with Dr. van der Velden, and he told us that my cancer was a fast-spreading condition and I needed to have it removed immediately. He answered our questions, calmed my fears and said he would do everything to help me.
“I have an open attitude towards people so it was easy to create a good connection with the doctors and medical personnel, which I consider very fundamental in such a process. I talked to them about my concerns or doubts and shared my worries about the process that I was going through. I have to say that all of them were wonderful in every aspect!”
Dr. van der Velden explained to Almudena that as clear cell is an aggressive form of ovarian cancer, it would need to be treated that way. One month later, Almudena underwent a procedure called open surgery, rather than laparoscopic surgery, requiring an incision large enough for the doctor to see the cyst and surrounding tissue.
“My incision from the surgery is a constant reminder of the struggle I went through. The cyst, which was 3cm, was a solid mass on my right ovary. It had adhered itself to the ovary and had to be broken to be removed, so some cells spilled out into my reproductive organs, namely, in my uterus and fallopian tubes. During this surgery, which was a complete hysterectomy, the doctor took additional tissue samples of my reproductive organs to be analyzed by pathology. Weeks later, he found no other metastases or extra cancer cells.”
The Process of Healing Begins
One month later, Almudena’s body was still recovering from the operation. Now, she had to start chemotherapy back at the OLVG.
“The doctor, Dr. W. Terpstra, hematologist/oncologist instructed me that I would be going through six full cycles of chemotherapy, which means full doses of carboplatin & paclitaxel every 21 days. At first, I felt reasonably good, then as each week progressed, I became more and more tired, nauseous, and just feeling terrible. I was not sleeping well and even lost the sensation of my fingers and toes as chemo attacks the nerves, too. Then, I started losing my eyelashes and hair so I shaved my long, flowing hair and wore a scarf wrapped around my head.”
Almudena would report to the hospital for her weekly chemotherapy session, starting at 9am and leaving at 6pm. The medical team would put her in a room with a full-size bed so she can relax during the infusion. Her husband, two sisters and some close friends would take turns accompanying her during this time, as she had a nurturing and caring support network.
“I could not have gone through this condition without my family and friends. It tests your relationships and shows you who your friends really are.”
The chemotherapy affected Almudena’s red blood cell count halfway through the process and she felt weak and tired.
“Anemia is normal during this time, but always being tired made me concentrate and focus on things less. I would watch a movie or read a book through the chemo session, and then I would fall asleep quickly.”
After Almudena finished the complete cycle of chemotherapy infusions, she had a follow-up appointment with her doctor, which included blood work, CT scan, and other diagnostic tests.
“My doctor said the tests results were very good. Now, I see him every three months for a routine visit. That was such a wonderful report to hear.
“During this process I learned to love myself, and pampered myself and my body. I learned to improve in terms of beauty, even in the worst circumstances. I wanted to feel beautiful and attractive for myself and for my close family. After three chemo cycles, I started even to think about how my new hair style would be in the moment that I finished chemo.”
Ovarian Carcinoma Pathophysiology Facts
According to published studies, ovarian clear cell adenocarcinomas (OCCAs) account for less than 5 percent of all ovarian malignancies, and 3.7–12.1 percent of all epithelial ovarian carcinomas. By contrast, early‐stage clear cell ovarian cancer carries a relatively good prognosis. When compared with their serous counterparts, a greater proportion of OCCA tumors present as early‐stage (I–II) tumors, are often associated with a large pelvic mass, which may account for their earlier diagnosis, and rarely occur bilaterally. Very little is known about the pathobiology of OCCA. Between 5 percent and 10 percent of ovarian cancers are associated with endometriotic lesions in which there is a predominance of clear and endometrioid cell subtypes, suggesting that both tumor types may arise in endometriosis. http://www.cancer.gov/types/ovarian/hp/ovarian-epithelial-treatment-pdq
The National Cancer Institute’s web site offers these statistics. In most families affected with the breast and ovarian cancer syndrome or site-specific ovarian cancer, genetic linkage has been found to the BRCA1 locus on chromosome 17q21. BRCA2, also responsible for some instances of inherited ovarian and breast cancer, has been mapped by genetic linkage to chromosome 13q12. The lifetime risk for developing ovarian cancer in patients harboring germline mutations in BRCA1 is substantially increased over that of the general population. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2001101/
Words Of Wisdom
“Throughout this journey, I found myself again in some way and found my strength as well. When it seemed I could not stand it anymore, either physically and mentally, I realized that I could.
“At the beginning of my diagnosis, I asked myself, ‘Why me?’, and I then changed it to, ‘Why not me?’ I discovered that I have the same opportunities as anyone who becomes ill. The important perspective to have is not whining and dwelling on my bad luck. The important thing is to heal, survive, and recover my life, which is very good!
“I learned the real value and importance of things: to differentiate and give real meaning and value to the care and support of my husband, René, who was always there for me, and my parents and sisters, who came to Amsterdam very often during the process. I also made sure that René was well-supported and accompanied by my family. René was feeling terrible for me, but he never showed it — and I learned this fact after I was starting to be back on track.”
Almudena’s Life Today
“At a significant moment in my life during my cancer diagnosis and after a long professional life in many corporate and consulting business in several countries, I decided to re-invent myself and start a new career, this time, in the battle of the opinions. I always liked foreign affairs and diplomacy, so why not share my thoughts and write about current international issues.”
That’s when Almudena started a blog to discuss relevant international political issues with her background specialization in International Relations, International Politics, International Law and Governance.
“I consider myself politically liberal and have been influenced by J.S. Mill and A. Tocqueville’s tradition of thought, as well as their ethical conception of the defense of freedom. This is what I try to capture in my political approach and in this blog. http://almudenas.website/index.php/about-me/
“Regarding my profession, I have already reinvented myself, leaving the corporate life with all that is included regarding life’s standards, and do what really makes me happy, which I´m doing right now. It seems after all, looking back with perspective, I did the right thing.
“I am grateful for my life and never take anything for granted. I am the happiest when I am doing things that please me or give me the utmost satisfaction. I now have balance in my personal and professional life, something that I’ve never had before. My husband, René, likes it too and I have his full support.”
She recently ‘liked’ this saying on LinkedIn, the professional network site, ‘I never lose. I either win or learn,’ which was attributed to Nelson Mandela, the deceased South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist.
Almudena’s life continues on a path of balance, richness and thankfulness for the person she is and the many blessings she continues to have along the way.
We would like to thank Gabriela Contreras, a global communications consultant and patient advocate, for the tremendous help and support she provided in locating and scheduling time to talk with Almudena Seeder-Alonso.
Almudena Seeder-Alonso provided her permission to publish this interview on August 10, 2016.
Other related articles on the link between Ovarian Cancer and Thyroid Cancer:
Other related articles/information:
Other related articles on Ovarian Cancer and Thyroid Cancer were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal include the following:
A Curated History of the Science Behind the Ovarian Cancer β-Blocker Trial
Model mimicking clinical profile of patients with ovarian cancer @ Yale School of Medicine
Preclinical study identifies ‘master’ proto-oncogene that regulates stress-induced ovarian cancer metastasis | MD Anderson Cancer Center
Good and Bad News Reported for Ovarian Cancer Therapy
Efficacy of Ovariectomy in Presence of BRCA1 vs BRCA2 and the Risk for Ovarian Cancer
Thyroid Function and Disorders
Thyroid Cancer: The Evolution of Treatment Options