I was in shock. How could this be? No one in our family had this diagnosis. Ovarian cancer? Are you sure? As far as I knew, my mom had two first cousins who had breast cancer. I also knew that my dad’s sister had it. Otherwise, there was no other cancer in the family that I knew of and definitely not ovarian cancer. Late-stage ovarian cancer. The kind where surgery was not even a consideration because the disease had spread already. No wonder mom couldn’t eat much and got full fast. Cancer was taking over her abdominal area. Invading space where it did not belong. Making her nauseous and bloated.
Initially, we thought she had heartburn but Prilosec and the like didn’t help. She began losing weight but this didn’t seem problematic because as a person who was overweight, who didn’t want a little weight loss? It wasn’t until the bloating, pelvic pressure, and back pain became unrelenting that more investigation was done. A urinary tract infection shouldn’t last this long, should it? She was no longer having a menstrual cycle because she had a hysterectomy a few years before due to a benign tumor, fibroids. Finally, she had a CT scan and then a biopsy. The list of what was wrong was short; cancer or tuberculosis. I was not a nurse practitioner at the time but I knew enough to say to myself “I’ll take tuberculosis for $200 Alex!” But it wasn’t tuberculosis. See Mom Had Cancer and Mom Died from Cancer.
Ovarian cancer affects roughly 200,000 women yearly. It is the 5th cause of cancer deaths in women and is the deadliest of the cancers that affect women’s reproductive system. As women age, the more likely she can develop ovarian cancer. Most women are over 40 at the time of diagnosis. Ovarian cancer is nicknamed the silent killer because of the vague and non-specific symptoms that may present and it is most often found in the late stage of the disease. However, it is anything but silent. You do need to pay careful attention to hear the whisper sometimes.
Below are signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer (can be all or some of these symptoms).
Most commonly noted symptoms
2. Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
3. Feeling the need to urinate more urgently or often
4. Pelvic or abdominal pain
Less Commonly noted symptoms
5. Upset stomach or heartburn
6. Back pain
7. Pain during sex
9. Change in bowel habits
10. Change in menstrual cycles
If you have symptoms that are new and last longer than two weeks, do not hesitate to seek medical attention. The persistence of symptoms can be a sign of something more. Due to the silent nature of many of these symptoms, meaning they don’t scream “something is wrong with my ovaries”, most cases are diagnosed in the later stages (Stage III or Stage IV). Only 15% of ovarian cancer is diagnosed in the early stages. Treatment for ovarian cancer mainly includes surgery and chemotherapy. Sometimes radiation therapy may be used. Women, pay attention to your bodies, men pay attention to the bodies of the women you love! Two weeks could make all the difference in the world.
Each year in memory of my mom and in support of ovarian cancer research, advocacy and patient support, we participate in the Head Over Teal 5K sponsored by the Laura Crandall Brown Foundation. This year the race is virtual so you can participate from wherever you are! It will take place between September 18-26! Go to thinkoflaura.org and register for the team, Charlena’s Angels (my mom’s name was Charlena)! We will be glad to have you and appreciate the support.
For more information on ovarian cancer please visit ovarian.org and cancer.org.