Diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 19, Noblesville’s Maggie Owens shares her story
At age 19, Maggie (Kleinhenn) Owens was faced with her own mortality. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years after graduating from Noblesville High School, Owens remained positive despite not knowing if she had an untreatable form of the disease.
“I always have a very positive perception. Your attitude has so much to do with what you feel,” said Owens, who is now 31. “The whole time going through treatments, yes, I had some really bad, awful days but knew they wouldn’t last forever. I knew it was just a period of my life and I’d fight through it.”
Owens was home for the summer between her sophomore and junior years of college in 2003. She woke up with pain in her rib cage that got worse as the day went on.
“It was Memorial Day,” she said. “My mom kept telling me I needed to go to the doctor but I was stubborn. She took me to the emergency room at Riverview Hospital.”
Owens said x-rays and medical tests were run and the solution made no sense.
“My blood tests were coming back saying I was pregnant,” she said. “I was a virgin and I knew I wasn’t pregnant.”
The pain subsided during her stay but Owens had an ultrasound two days later to prove she wasn’t with child.
“I could tell by the tech’s reaction something was not right,” she said. “There was a mass the size of an eggplant in my abdomen. It most likely was a tumor.”
After being inspected by a gynecologist, Owens and her family were brought into his office for the news: she had ovarian cancer but it was unknown which of the three types it was.
“It never fazed me that this could be cancer. I think my parents had a suspicion more than I had because I was young and naïve,” she said. “It was a hard conversation as a family. They were trying to lighten the mood and make jokes. Throughout all of it I had my whole family by my side.”
A 12-hour surgery came two days after diagnosis where one ovary and fallopian tube and most of her lymph nodes in her abdomen were removed. She then faced four rounds of chemotherapy where she had 24 hours of treatment for five days at a time every three weeks and the other week she went in for one full day.
“I was stubborn. I was told not to but I wanted to go back to school in the fall,” she said. “My mother and I lived in a hotel for a month and a half and then in married student housing for another month and a half before I moved back into my sorority in November.”
After losing her hair, Owens said the only time she wore a wig was when singing with the Purduettes, Purdue’s all-women glee club.
“Occasionally I tried a scarf but most of the time I embraced my bald head,” she said. “It impacted my relationship with the Lord. Sometimes college kids lose sight of what’s important. I had to put my faith in something bigger than me. My faith, family and friends really got me through those beat down times.”
Married with kids
Owens prognosis was good. Her cancer was contained in one ovary and fallopian tube and the lymph nodes in her abdomen.
“I’m doing well now but was told during chemo I probably would never have children,” she said.
Owens, met her husband, Chris, at Crosspoint Church in Fishers in 2007. She sang in the band and he played guitar.
“We were just friends,” Maggie said. “I learned who he was as a person before we started dating.”
“I was not shocked by how strong she was. I knew her and her mindset. But was surprised there weren’t more down times, more ‘woe is me’ times,” Chris said.
The couple was married in 2009. They were in the process of trying to be foster parents and on the day they were getting licensed through the state, Maggie found out she was pregnant.
“I was terrified my cancer had come back because of the false positive before,” she said. “We had a miscarriage and it was awful, terrifying and a blessing because I could get pregnant.”
“I had an open mind for adoption,” Chris said. “To conceive was a miracle. Our children are wonderful.”
The Owens welcomed their first born, Wyatt, into the world in February 2011 and their daughter, Caroline, 18 months ago.
“It was a miracle,” Maggie said. “I just didn’t think that we together would have children. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The road to childbirth provided the Owens with another life obstacle.
Just 24 weeks into her pregnancy with Wyatt, Maggie basically went into labor. For the next 69 days she was on bed rest at Community North Hospital. At the same time, Chris learned his job was being terminated as a result of budget cuts.
“There was a lot to overcome but it wasn’t because of what we did. It was everything family, friends and other people did to support us,” Chris said.
Maggie said her experience made her want to help others. She said ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer because its symptoms – constipation and abdominal pain – are common and it often gets overlooked.
“You don’t really hear about young women having ovarian cancer, usually its older women,” she said. “I want to make it known you should pay attention to your body. Your body tells you when things are not right. I want to be a voice for the disease to make people aware you don’t have to be 60.”
Meet Maggie (Kleinhenn) Owens
Job: First-grade teacher at Noble Crossing Elementary School
Hobbies: Singing, reading and knitting
Last book read: “The art of racing in the rain” by Garth Stein
Favorite food: Anything Italian
Personal quote: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Meet Chris Owens
Job: Executive director of Noblesville Main Street
Hobbies: Guitar, remodeling and cooking
Favorite musician: AC/DC, Metallica and blues
Favorite food: Soups
Personal quote: “Sometimes you get to the end of your rope, just tie a knot and hold on it.”