Managing life after surviving a rough battle with cancer can be emotionally and mentally draining. There might be lingering feelings of sadness and hopelessness, self-consciousness and fear of what the future holds.
One Hot Springs woman turned her own near-fatal experience with cancer into a symbol of hope.
At the age of 29, Frances Iverson, now 34, had been married to her husband one year and just received the news that she was expecting their first child. They were over the moon, she said. And then something went wrong.
“We thought it was a miscarriage, but the strange part is, when I went in thinking I had a miscarriage, they did an ultrasound and there wasn’t a fetus. Instead of a fetus, there was a mass,” she said.
Iverson had what was called a molar pregnancy, a mass in her uterus that was mistaken for a baby. A molar pregnancy happens when tissue that normally becomes a fetus instead becomes an abnormal growth in the uterus.
Even though it isn’t an embryo, this growth triggers symptoms of pregnancy and the body responds accordingly.
“They can tell it’s a molar pregnancy because, of course, they can see the mass, but also when they do your blood work your HCG hormone level is out of the roof, so your body thinks it’s pregnant,” Iverson said. “I felt it, I was expanding, everything. It was really bizarre.”
Initial surgeries to remove the mass were unsuccessful. The mass was growing and had attached to her uterine wall, and at that point it was considered a cancer and Iverson was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma.
After the surgeries were unsuccessful the doctors moved on to chemotherapy shots, which should have reduced the size of the mass and brought her HCG levels down to zero. They were also unsuccessful.
“The numbers just went up. So it was really disappointing and frustrating. I thought, ‘OK, I’m doing everything right here, what’s happening?’ A big part of my journey was my faith and we coined the phrase ‘Praying for Zero.’ The word zero means a lot to me; it started then and it still does now,” she said. “Unfortunately the shots weren’t working so they were going to have to get more serious about it and go to plan B.”
Plan B was three to four rounds of IV chemotherapy, which caused Iverson to lose her hair, lose her appetite, and experience all of the side effects of the medicine. Finally,
the treatment was working, the mass was shrinking and the HCG levels were dropping.
“That Praying for Zero, it was working. The big drugs were doing their job, so that was exciting to see that zero coming closer,” she said.
Praying for Zero became a communitywide movement and blew up on social media in honor of Iverson.
“And then the treatment stopped working,” she said. “So, my HCG, instead of continuing to go down, it spiked.”
At that point Iverson’s doctor and specialists told her a partial hysterectomy was her next and final option because they needed to get to the core of the mass and just remove it, as it had also spread to her lung.
“So I didn’t have a choice. With my faith and my support group I was really doing well. I had so many people taking care of me that I knew I was going to be fine. But I think the worst day of the whole experience was when I went to the specialist, he took me into the room, I put on that uncomfortable paper gown and he said, ‘I have to take out the uterus because otherwise it’s just going to keep growing.’
“And I remember looking at him and I said, ‘You know, I really want to have my own kids, I really do.’ And he said, ‘Well, if I don’t take this out of your body, you won’t live to see kids.’ And so that was really the first moment that I thought about dying. I didn’t want to die.”
The doctor removed a softball-sized mass.
Iverson’s friends and family surrounded her after she healed and they celebrated with a big Praying for Zero-themed party.
“Then, after that, here I am,” she said. “But, I think people assume, if they’ve never had cancer, that when someone does get cancer, once they get their remission that they’re just good to go. It’s not like that. There are still remnants of fear and life is very different, especially if you’ve almost died. People’s treatments can be really taxing on body, mind and soul, and mine was.
“I maintained my hope that things were going to get better but to be honest with you, child loss, then not being able to have children, then cancer, chemo, and you deal with things like grief, post traumatic stress symptoms, depression — it has been really hard. It’s been four years now.”
Iverson said she had a “what now?” moment and, while thinking of therapeutic things she could do, decided to go out and purchase a blank mannequin head. Because of her love for flowers she cut out hundreds of colorful flowers from magazines and covered the head with them.
“I put her together and she was a way for me to focus on something beautiful,” she said.
Iverson’s Creations of Hope program was born in 2013.
She describes Creations of Hope as a “unique and creative way to express hope and share that with the cancer community. It’s just kind of creative, something very different and just a way for people to express and share hope.”
She approached Our Promise Cancer Resources to be a sponsor and they welcomed her and the program with open arms.
The next summer she became a board member of the Hot Springs Debutante Coterie and for the last few years the 25 debutantes have decorated their own Creations of Hope and donated them to someone who has been affected by cancer.
“A lot of the girls, a lot of the participants in general, know someone (to gift the Creation to) because cancer touches us all. It’s very personal, very emotional,” Iverson said.
What started as a therapeutic way for Iverson to cope with the after effects of cancer has now grown into a state and countrywide program.
For the donation fee of $30, the individual receives a blank mannequin head and all of the pieces to turn it into a gift including a gift bag, tissue paper, a certificate and a story. All of the proceeds go to Creations of Hope and Our Promise Cancer Resources.
Pre-made Creations of Hope can be purchased for a donation fee of $50.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.facebook.com/creationsofhopeprogram for more information.