In January of 2006 my family received devastating news. After many months of my mom having vague gastrointestinal symptoms we finally learned of her diagnosis. Her symptoms included nausea, vomiting, bloating, early satiety, weight loss and abdominal pain. She was incorrectly diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Finally, we learned of her true diagnosis of ovarian cancer. I was in shock! Then my wheels begin to turn as I thought to myself how in the world could my mom have ovarian cancer when she didn’t have OVARIES! Just a few years prior she had a hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oopherectomy (BSO). This means her uterus, fallopian tubes and OVARIES had been REMOVED. I knew she had a history of fibroids with heavy and painful menstrual cycles. The hysterectomy and BSO were to reduce these issues or so we thought. I learned that despite mom no longer having ovaries she had developed the disease that was basically equal to ovarian cancer. The official name is Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma. This is essentially ovarian cancer without ovaries as the pathology is the same.
Upon wrapping my mind around this we dove head first into what needed to happen to treat this. Thankfully, my awesome and well connected uncle had a close friend who happened to be a medical oncologist. Oncology is the study and treatment of cancer. We were able to see him quickly and learned more concerning information. We learned that mom’s cancer was Stage IV or metastatic. This meant her disease was advanced and had spread to various organs. We then learned that treatment options for ovarian cancer were limited. Two chemotherapeutic agents were the mainstay of treatment; Carboplatin and Taxol. The road ahead would be difficult and that her prognosis (likely course of disease) was poor.
I made it my mission to learn as much as I could about ovarian cancer. I learned that it has the highest mortality (likelihood of death) of all the gynecological cancers. I learned that it often happened in older women. This was puzzling because mom was only 47 at the time of her diagnosis. I also learned that it is nicknamed the “silent killer”. It has this nickname because of the vague symptoms it causes and because of the usual late stage diagnosis.
Upon having a port placed, mom began her treatment with Carboplatin and Taxol. A port is a device that a surgeon places in the chest wall cavity for ease of treatment, intravenous fluids and blood work. As mom began treatment, we began the journey with her. The doctor and nurse discussed side effects with us. We were not at all excited about the potential side effects of chemotherapy because some of the side effects were also symptoms of ovarian cancer. Mom was already experiencing nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, fatigue and weakness. She lost weight and had abdominal bloating that I now know is caused by ascites. Ascites is excess fluid often made by the liver due to the cancer. Yet, if I didn’t know anything I knew mom was a fighter and thus the journey began.