You probably don't know a lot about ovarian cancer.
Neither did I when I was diagnosed seventeen years ago.
I didn't know I had the deadly cancer because I didn't recognize the symptoms.
And I had all four of them.
I had stomach bloating, pelvic and abdominal pain, digestive problems, and urinary frequency.
Overall, I just didn't feel well. And I had lost weight.
That February, I had my yearly pap smear and mammogram.
The pap smear exam was so painful that it brought tears to my eyes. (A pap smear does not detect ovarian cancer.)
Even though I expressed my concerns to the examiner, I was given a clean bill of health.
Yet my discomfort continued, then escalated.
A friend urged me to see another doctor right away.
So in April, I scheduled another appointment with an internist.
After his exam, he scheduled me for an ultrasound at the hospital.
The ultrasound indicated a mass on the right ovary,
The physician then sent me to a gynecologist in a neighboring town.
The gynecologist performed a pelvic exam, then a complete blood work was done, including a CA-125, a marker that indicates the presence of cancer. He also scheduled me for a complete hysterectomy.
But six days later, my phone rang with bad news.
The CA-125 marker was too elevated. That indicated the tumor was likely malignant. But the test is not definitive. It is not useful in detecting early stage disease..It is just a screening too.
The physician said that he would not do a hysterectomy but instead scheduled me to confer with a Memphis gynecologic oncologist for surgery.
The surgery was performed almost immediately. Biopsies indicated the mass was malignant and had spread to the lining of the stomach.
All this left me in a state of shock.
There was no family history of ovarian cancer in my family.
I quickly began to gather facts about the disease.
I learned that survival rates were dismal. Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly cancers. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States. Almost 70 percent of women are not diagnosed until the disease is advanced to Stage 3 or Stage 4.
Yet, today, there is only a 30 percent survival rate for late stages of the cancer
The good news is that if detected at its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is more than 93 percent. However, most ovarian cancer is caught in late stages, because many women don't know the warning symptoms and don't seek help. Ovarian cancer has been called "the silent killer." But the signs are there.
Thankfully, I had an excellent oncologist who aggressively tackled the cancer that threatemed my life.
He surgically removed the baseball sized tumor and removed as many of the cancerous cells as he could. He left behind some "seedlings" that he could not remove surgically.
His plan was to kill those small cancerous grains with chemotherapy.. The cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes but was contained in the pelvic area..
While I was on the operating table in Memphis, the doctor confided in my children that I had only a 15 to 20 percent chance of survival because my cancer was in a late stage.
I was scheduled to have chemotherapy every three to four weeks, as my body would tolerate.
There were many days when I thought I couldn't carry on the fight.
My body was ravaged by the chemicals. I lost weight and strength and appetite..
There were days when I could barely walk to the kitchen and back.
My white blood count would drop dangerously low, leaving me drained.
But I was lucky that I didn't get nauseated, as most patients do..
I was blessed with family members and friends and church members. They brought food when I was unable to stand to cook a meal.
When the time came that I could no longer stay alone, two friends came to my home, loaded my bed, and moved me into their home.
There they took care of me, cooked my meals, and provided the encouragement I needed. Slowly, slowly I began to come alive again.
Nine months into treatment, the oncologist scheduled a "second look" surgery. He wanted to do biopsies to see if all the cancer was gone.
When I awoke from the second surgery, both my children were there at my bedside. My doctor entered the room and gave them the good news.
There was no sign of cancer. I was cancer free.. Although I rejoiced at the news, I didn't feel completely free. The fear of the cancer's return stayed with me for a long time.
Fifteen thousand lives annually are killed by ovarian cancer.
It is the the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths.
September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
And teal is the color that represents the cause.
Women need to be their own health advocates.
They need to be aware.
There's a killer among us.