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Samantha Villalobos: Why I Refused to Let COVID-19 Define My Cancer Journey

Samantha Villalobos

“Dr. Ward made me a promise that we’d fight my cancer together, and she kept it."

Samantha Villalobos
Ovarian Cancer

We invited ovarian cancer survivor Samantha Villalobos, from Sugar Land, to share her experience going through cancer treatment during COVID-19.

I was sitting in “my” chair in the Texas Oncology–Sugar Land chemotherapy infusion room – the one in the corner I sat in every three weeks with my books and my phone charger – when a fellow patient looked toward the window and smiled.

“Are those your people?” she asked. “I think they’re yours...”

I turned and there they were – my people – donning facemasks, waving signs of support, and blaring blowhorns outside the infusion room windows.

It was my last day of chemotherapy. For the majority of chemo sessions, visitors were not allowed to join me due to COVID-19 safety protocols. But the day I rang the bell to celebrate the end of treatment my people were there. It meant everything to me.

Choosing to Fight

Six months prior, on Feb. 5, 2020, I sat in a clinic room down the hall as gynecologic oncologist Kristy Ward, M.D., MAS, told me I had stage IV ovarian cancer. In a week, I went from being treated for constipation to finding out I had cancer.

When I heard the words “you have cancer” my heart hit the floor. My people were there that day too. My wife, Sonia, my best friend, and my best friend’s husband huddled over me.

My father died from lung cancer nine years earlier. He struggled tremendously with chemotherapy and radiation. I always told myself I wouldn’t do it. If I ever got cancer, I’d cash out my savings and travel. After hearing my diagnosis, I told Sonia our first stop would be Hawaii.

“Not if I have anything to do with it,” Dr. Ward said with an expression I can only describe as that ‘mama’ look you get when you know you’ve said the wrong thing. “You have so much life to live. We’re going to get you through this, together. Get ready to fight.”

So, I did. And that’s where my cancer story really began.

Learning to ‘Bring My Brave’

I didn't know Dr. Ward previously, but I quickly put my trust in her and my care team. A cancer diagnosis is scary. Fighting cancer amid a global pandemic takes it to a whole other level. Cancer patients are at higher risk of getting sick from viruses, including COVID-19. I was defiant – not cancer, nor COVID-19 would steal my will to fight.

I learned to lean on the support of my people at home, but at the clinic I was on my own. I did the only thing I knew to do – make people laugh. It builds connections and friendships – and it helped carry me through some of the toughest moments of my cancer journey.

Laughter made me feel brave and reminded me of my inner strength. The day I arrived at the hospital for the hysterectomy was my first time to have surgery. There I was, alone, amid a pandemic. I walked up to the hospital doors with my backpack. My people watched from the sidewalk as I turned around and waved at the door like it was the first day of school. I was heartbroken and terrified. When I saw Dr. Ward and her team, we started laughing about something and I suddenly felt at ease. The next thing I knew, I was in recovery.

Growing My Tribe

COVID-19 meant my people still couldn’t accompany me to chemo. My nurses felt like family. The other patients became my friends. We laughed together and cried sometimes – but mostly laughed. We made the best of it.

My journey has been challenging mentally and emotionally. I never expected to hear I had ovarian cancer or have a hysterectomy, and never have children of my own. But good has come out of this. I was blessed to meet amazing people like Dr. Ward, my Texas Oncology care team, and other cancer patients. Now, those are my people too.

On my last day of chemo, just before those celebratory blaring of blowhorns, I talked with two newly diagnosed patients.

I told them not to give up. I told how Dr. Ward made me a promise that we’d fight my cancer together, and she kept it.

Turns out, we had the same oncologist. I knew they were in the best hands.

Texas Oncology is such a special place. No one wants cancer, but if you have to have it, Texas Oncology is where you want to be.

The information included in this testimonial is based on one patient’s unique experience and is not intended to represent all patient outcomes or expectations.