Entertainer, hard worker and ovarian cancer survivor. These are just three things that describe Trish McKibbin. The Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation recently sat down with Trish to discuss how she beat ovarian cancer and how she continues to actively participate in raising awareness and funds to support the foundation and continued research to fight this deadly disease.
Follow along below as we continue our monthly “Survivor Spotlight” this October to learn how Trish made the best of her diagnosis and is now cancer-free and happier than ever.
SROCF: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and what you do?
Trish: I live in Florida currently, but I’m originally from the Northeast. I’ve actually lived down here longer now, but Rhode Island is always home. I work an office job during the day, and I have a music entertainment business. I DJ, I sing, and do karaoke shows and help to plan events.
SROCF: How long have you been doing that? Is the entertainment business kind of a side hustle?
Trish: Well, it started off as that, but I stay pretty busy with it. Last year, I did around 220-something events. I like to say I have two-full time jobs.
SROCF: Let’s go deeper into your journey with ovarian cancer. Can you talk to us about what kind of ovarian cancer you were diagnosed with and when that all started?
Trish: In June of 2015, I was having what I didn’t realize were ovarian cancer symptoms. I had bloating and abdominal issues and a lot of the things that now I know are symptoms. I had gone to a general practitioner, and I told her my issues. I even told her my stomach sometimes feels hard, but I’ve put on weight. I thought I was supposed to be fluffy and soft. She just told me, in her exact words, “just lose weight.” At that point I think I was 46 or 47, and I’m like, okay, well, I’m getting older, so I guess I just need to lose weight.
SROCF: That’s tough to hear. What were the next steps you took after getting that diagnosis?
Trish: I started going to the gym more, working out, and time went on. This was like the beginning to mid of 2015. Then, in 2016, it was June, and I was going for my yearly gyno appointment and I was still having problems. For example, if I would lay down, either on the floor or on the bench at the gym, it was painful in my abdominal area. It was a couple of days before I was going to my appointment. I rolled over getting out of bed and I was thinking, wow, that feels like I have a softball or something in there. So, I told my gyno, who’s an amazing woman, about it and she did her exam. She was like, “Yeah, I think there’s something there. Could be fibroids, could be a cyst. I’d like to send you for an ultrasound.” So they did that, and I had my ultrasound, and then I had gone to get my mammogram. They brought me back for more ultrasounds after, and that’s when I started to get a little panicky. All she said was that I’d get the report in a few days.
My doctor ended up calling me because she got the report first and told me that I had a massive cyst on one ovary. She gave me the measurements in centimeters so, of course, I figured it out on my calculator. It turned out it was 9 inches by 10 inches by 5 inches.
SROCF: What happened when they finally did the biopsies? What were your initial thoughts on them taking it?
Trish: He had told me beforehand if I see anything then if it’s cancer, I’m going to take whatever have to take. I was already at a point where I knew I wasn’t having kids, so I said to take it all. The cyst they took off the one ovary was benign, then he did some biopsy-ing around and didn’t see anything more or they would have removed it.
So I went home, and then went back in for a follow up a week later and he tells me that they found cancer in the other ovary they left because he didn’t want to do a full hysterectomy to send me into menopause prematurely. So I was just like, “Okay,” and he said, “You can react.” I said, “Well, I just want to know what we need to do because we just need to move on. There’s nothing I can do about it.” So he said, “Well, we’re going to have to do a complete hysterectomy.” And, I said, “Well, whatever needs to be done.”
At that point, we didn’t know what stage it was, and it turned out that it was only stage one. So I was so, so, so lucky, which is why now I’m a big mouth advocate for awareness.
SROCF: That’s incredibly lucky you caught it so early.
Trish: Yes, but then he told me as precautionary measure, I needed chemo. Of course that kind of like hit me hard. I love my doctors because they’re very straightforward and matter of factly. So, they told me I can forgo the chemo but there would be a high percent chance that it would come back, but if I did the chemo it would drop down to about 5% since I was only at stage 1. I said to myself, I can be without hair or whatever and be uncomfortable for a few months, since I only needed three rounds.
So I did it. It was from August to September and I did end up losing 90% of my hair. I always wore hats before so I just kept doing that. I tried wearing wigs, but it just didn’t feel like me. So, I went with hats. I’ve always been known for crazy headwear so I was just really playing it up.
SROCF: That’s amazing that you were able to be so positive about your diagnosis and feel confident in yourself. What were your friends and family’s reaction to your diagnosis? Did they play a huge role in your positivity throughout it all?
Trish: I had a great support system in my friends. They were just so amazing from bringing me to my appointments and coming over and just hanging out with me. I’m just forever grateful for that. Here I am three years later, and the counts are lower than ever.
SROCF: What were your thoughts when you originally got the diagnosis, and tell us what was going through your mind?
Trish: When he first told me I couldn’t react. I think I was kind of in shock because I wasn’t thinking that. I was good until I went out to the car where one of my friends was, and he’s like a dad figure to me. I got in the car and he said, “So what’s going on?” and that’s when I lost it.
Initially when I was told I felt okay, and then once I got in front of somebody that I was close to, that’s when I lost it. It was hard to tell my boyfriend and my mother and friends, but the more I talked about it the better. I don’t want to say it was easier, but yeah, it got easier. I had a plan in place and I was going to kick its ass.
SROCF: Over the past couple of years, have you ever had any more potential scares or other signs of a recurrence?
Trish: Well, I’ve noticed now from talking to other survivors, any little thing is a scare. Whether it’s a bump or whatever. So there’s been nothing that has turned out to be anything, but you’re in a different mindset.
SROCF: Do you regularly go for checkups every once in a while, or just when something doesn’t feel right?
Trish: I go to both my oncologist and my surgeon every six months. At first, it was three and then my counts have been fine, so they set me out to six months, and then after I think five years, it’ll be every year. I’m good with going as often as I have to because I don’t want it to come back. I don’t want it to be six months in between and then they find something that’s too late.
SROCF: As a survivor, we know that you do a lot of fundraising in the Florida area. Can you talk to us a little bit more about your most recent fundraiser and how you got involved with Sandy Rollman?
Trish: Sure, I actually got hooked up with Robin Cohen and Sandy Rollman through social media. They were having an event, and I contacted her and that’s how the relationship started. I did an event last year and the money went to a local charity in Florida. I wasn’t looking for another organization, but when I had contacted Sandy Rollman through Twitter, someone was messaging me and I thought it was an admin. They told me they’d call me, and it was Robin herself.
I was so impressed. Wait, like the CEO of this organization would take the time to call me about an event that I might not have anything to do with. I ended up going to Philadelphia, and now, I’ve been up there three times in the past six months to go to events with Robin and the Sandy Rollman team.
I said to Robin, “I’m going to have my Team Teal event, and I would really like the money to go to Sandy Rollman.” And she of course said, “Yes, and anything we can do to help,” and they were a big help with letting me have paperwork and authorizations to collect donations on their behalf.
SROCF: We’re so happy to get connected and that we are able to continue working together to help the foundation and spread awareness.
Trish: I believe it was definitely some kind of divine intervention. One major reason is Sandy Rollman does a lot of events in conjunction with General Hospital, and I’ve been a fan my whole life. That was the first event I saw, and I believe everything happens for a reason.
In Florida, the first event that I did was very impromptu. I decided when I was out with my friends, and I was booking a singing gig. I was on the phone with the owner and all of a sudden I just said, “Hey, can I have a fundraiser there?” And it turned out that I gave myself two weeks and six days to plan it.. I’m pretty good under pressure, so I ended up doing it. It was successful for the amount of time we had to prepare and raised about $2,700.
SROCF: That’s incredible for such short notice, and every little bit counts.
Trish: I was really fortunate, and I did most of the work myself. This year, I got some of my friends to help me collect donations, make baskets, set up and break down everything for the event. So, I had it a little more organized and gave myself a lot more time. I was really thrilled because I wanted to beat last year of course. I wanted to do at least $3,000 but in my head, I had a bigger goal of $5,000. We ended up raising right around $6,500.
SROCF: That’s so amazing, and now that you’ve been working on this so long, the word has been spread a little bit more each time, so that’s awesome to just know you’re continuing greatness. When did that event take place?
Trish: Saturday the 28 in September. For three hours, we had raffles, a silent auction and a DJ, who is a friend of mine that donated his time. I had a photographer who donated his time, as well, and even a poker table so anyone could get involved if they wanted! Now I see what I can improve on from there and start building my team now for next year and make it even better. I joked with Robin that I’m the unofficial Florida chapter of Sandy Rollman.
SROCF: How has going through this whole process of your diagnosis and overcoming ovarian cancer changed you? Is there any advice that you would give to other young women who are recently diagnosed, or maybe don’t know what symptoms they should even look out for?
Trish: I never ever would have thought that having ovarian cancer would make my life better, but it has because the connections I have made and the women that I have met. I was so fortunate that I was only stage one. I’ve met women diagnosed as stage four, and I realize how lucky I am and my life has been made better. As for women, they just need to know the symptoms. They need to be advocates for themselves. I’m very lucky because back then, who knows if I just said, “Well I’m not going to go back to another doctor I’m just going to try and lose weight”. Women really just need to learn about the disease and spread the word and if you’re diagnosed, you just have to come up with an action plan and you have to be a fighter. Finding it early is the best thing they can do. So we just really have to know our bodies and when something is off. We have to stop and take care of ourselves, and that’s the best thing I can tell everyone, especially young women.
This disease doesn’t discriminate. The best thing that you can do is just be educated and if, God forbid, you’re diagnosed, learn everything you can. Spread the word of awareness and just fight.