My Name Is... Hillary Gilfand

Survivor advocates for women to be vigilant in ovarian cancer awareness

Posted 9/12/19

About me I live in Castle Rock with my wife, Shawn Gilfand, and our fur family. I’ve worked at MillerCoors for the last 12 years and love working in the beer industry. When we’re not at work, …

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My Name Is... Hillary Gilfand

Survivor advocates for women to be vigilant in ovarian cancer awareness

Posted

About me

I live in Castle Rock with my wife, Shawn Gilfand, and our fur family. I’ve worked at MillerCoors for the last 12 years and love working in the beer industry. When we’re not at work, we love to travel any chance we can get. Being a cancer survivor means an extra chance at life and we make the most of every opportunity to see and experience all that life has to offer. 

A cancer diagnosis

I was diagnosed at age 46, which is relatively young for ovarian cancer. I went to the emergency room with what I thought was an intestinal blockage only to be quickly diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer two days before Christmas in 2007. Needless to say, it came as quite a shock and was devastating news. I had never met anyone who had ovarian cancer and was clueless about where to go for things like treatment options, which hospitals to go to for a second opinion, even where to get a wig. I remember feeling like I had fallen into the abyss and it was truly terrifying.

A healthy place

Today I am doing great. I am one of the very, very, VERY lucky women who have both survived Stage IV ovarian cancer and have not experienced any reoccurrence of the disease (me, knocking on wood as we speak) so far. I had a great gynecological oncology surgeon at University of Colorado Hospital and a very aggressive schedule of chemo almost immediately following my surgery on New Year’s Eve in 2007. I went through 12 rounds of chemo in 2008 (working full time during treatment!), and a second surgery in June of 2008. 

A wonderful friend (and fellow survivor), Lisa Omalsa, introduced me to the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance that year and brought me to my first support group.  It was a revelation to meet a room full of women all going through ovarian cancer. It truly helped save my life. We were able to share survivor stories, treatment options, where to find resources and simply cry on each others’ shoulders. The group moderator, Susan Hess, was our guiding angel and biggest cheerleader. Having a wonderful support network of my wife, family, friends and coworkers also helped get me to where I am today. My wife, Shawn, was with me every step of the way and I know 100% I would not be here today without her help.

What to know about ovarian cancer

Women should know that ovarian cancer is sneaky! Its symptoms (bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, urinary urgency or frequency) mimic many other things that women experience on a monthly basis. We always say if these symptoms persist longer than two weeks, get them checked out by your doctor (preferably a gynecologist). Being an advocate for yourself is critical. If you’re not getting the attention you feel you need, find another doctor who will take your symptoms seriously. Also, important to know is that a pap smear does NOT detect ovarian cancer. Women should talk to their doctor about other testing options.

Women in Colorado are so lucky that the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance exists, colo-ovariancancer.org. It’s a wealth of information on support groups, resource guides and wonderful people who are survivors or who have been impacted by ovarian cancer.  A truly amazing group of people I am proud to be associated with.

My advice

My wife and I live by the mantra “Be grateful for every day.” Both of our license plates say “Grateful” on them. We definitely get sidelined by life’s challenges sometimes but always try to re-center ourselves to that place of gratitude. When you get a second chance at life it’s humbling, gratifying and completely amazing!

If you have suggestions for My Name Is…, contact Jessica Gibbs at jgibbs@coloradocommunitymedia.com.

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