Sasha Bialock doesn’t let ovarian cancer stop her from staying active and embracing life.
Featured photo courtesy of Karmanos
Sasha Bialock, 63, of West Bloomfield, is a woman who has spent her life embracing everything she can about it, from being physically fit to gardening, playing music and photographing objects that are beautiful to her eyes.
“I’m a person who can’t wait to go to bed to get back up the next day,” she said. “I love life.”
Her cancer diagnosis has altered her perspective on life.
“Cancer came and my life changed,” she said in the next breath. “We think we’re invincible. The cancer diagnosis was shocking.”
Bialock was diagnosed with Stage 3c high-grade advanced epithelial ovarian cancer on Nov. 7, 2018. She had gone to see her gynecologist at the end of October. At the time, she had a vaginal ultrasound and experience a “tiny bit of pain,” she said.
The prior summer, she said she just felt “off” and was experiencing back pain she describes as horrible. As someone who wears a pacemaker due to sick sinus syndrome and tachycardia, she said she is diligent in keeping up with her doctor appointments.
It was during the gynecologist’s visit for her annual pap smear that they found something suspect following a vaginal ultrasound that revealed some masses. Bialock was sent to the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, where Ira Winer, M.D., member of the Gynecologic Oncology Multidisciplinary Team, ordered a CA125 blood test and a CAT scan for her.
Bialock calls it a fluke that her cancer was found.
“I believe in karma and sixth sense,” she said. “Ovarian cancer is considered a silent killer because it mimics other (conditions).”
In retrospect, she said her back pain and stomach bloating were primary symptoms of her advanced cancer.
“The masses were so large they were causing compression in my lower back area,” she said.
Bialock went through surgery and more than five months of chemotherapy, which kept her mostly bedridden because of chemotherapy side effects, though she did force herself to get up and walk once a day. Her last chemotherapy treatment was May 29 of this year.
“You’re left with all sorts of emotional and physical symptoms,” she said. “It’s a fear that overcomes you. I’m afraid I’m going to disappear.”
Despite her fears, Bialock says she pushed herself when she felt able to.
“My first challenge was the Gilda’s Club Family Walk & 5K Run,” she said about the event in September 2019. “I ran. I told myself, you must do it. I crossed the finish line.”
Bialock is now in remission with her cancer. Though she said many things frightened her, including being alone, driving a car and getting back out into the world, she focuses on doing fun things each day. That could include going to museums, the Detroit Zoo, walking, traveling, gardening and returning to her love of photography.
“I challenge myself to face some of my fears,” she said. “I force myself to get out.”
Bialock also draws comfort from attending the daytime Women’s Wellness Group at Karmanos’ Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center in Farmington Hills. The group meets at 11 a.m. each Tuesday and is open to all women, not just those receiving treatment at Karmanos.
“I’ve met some wonderful people,” she said about the group. “It’s hard to find people who will just sit and listen to you. The members are very warm and empathetic.”
Kathleen Hardy, LMSW, oncology social worker at Karmanos, leads the daytime Women’s Wellness Group, among other support groups at Weisberg.
“The daytime Women’s Wellness Group is a group of amazing women,” she said. “Some have had chronic cancers and been in treatment for up to 13 or 14 years. They may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have them. They face their fears, support one another and thrive. They inspire each other and focus on living their lives as fully as possible.”
Bialock describes Hardy’s leadership and support as “truly amazing.” She also takes part in Karmanos’ complementary therapies including art classes and has recently begun learning about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with Dr. Ruth Lerman at Adat Shalom, through a Karmanos referral.
She also mentioned that she’s developed a deep trust with Dr. Winer.
“Dr. Winer was a reassuring presence,” she said. “He’s brilliant and he’s a good doctor. I have complete confidence in his treatment plans.”
Living with a chronic cancer that could return, Bialock gives this advice to others with cancer:
“Communication is really important when you’re sick,” she said. “I do my own research. I want to know everything and I ask a lot of questions. I can’t be intimidated by a white coat. My life is at stake.”
She said her cancer diagnosis has been the most difficult period of life she’s been through. But she lives each day to the fullest and leans on her support system, which includes her 96-year-old mother, Sadie, her daughter, Sarah, her sister, Linda, and, brother, David, cousin Ann and Rabbi Dovid Polter of Jewish Senior Life, as well as a very select group of friends, as she describes them. Bialock also says that her internal medicine doctor, William Sulaka, M.D., of Infinity Primary Care in West Bloomfield, has provided her ongoing support.
“I’ve always been an optimistic person,” she said. “I’m sad a lot. Having a cancer like this, it’s learning how to be spiritual.
“My advice is to acknowledge the cancer. Acknowledge that you may have to live your life differently. You must get out there and be active. You need to find little things that make you happy.”
In addition to the daytime Women’s Wellness Group, Karmanos’ Farmington Hills location also holds an evening women’s group, a men’s group, a spouse’s group, a family group and a young adult group. Karmanos’ support groups are supported by the Lawrence and Idell Weisberg Cancer Patient Fund. If you are interested in participating in one of these groups, contact Kathleen Hardy at (248) 538-4712 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on cancer services or other support groups, call 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266) or visit karmanos.org.