Be a Bulldog
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. I started off writing this blog with all the difficult details of my experience 10 years ago with ovarian cancer. But then I decided that I really should just boil it all down to what I learned from being diagnosed with a rare type of ovarian cancer at the age of 35. And what I learned was this: LISTEN to your body and be your own ADVOCATE.
Ovarian cancer is well-known as the “silent killer”. It’s called that because often it’s found too late when the cancer has spread well beyond the ovaries and metastasized to various organs you can’t live without – such as the liver. Quite often women wake up from surgery to be told that the cancer has spread to distant organs and is growing in fluid that has built up in their abdomens. This fluid is called ascites and by the time this is found it’s hella difficult to beat ovarian cancer’s ass. The good news is ovarian cancer is still rare among gynecological cancers. The bad news though is that if you get it, ovarian cancer is the toughest gynecological cancer to beat and the tests for early detection in a word…suck. No offense to all the researchers who have worked their butts off to create better tests over the last 10 years. But the truth is there is still nothing really equivalent to say…a mammogram…for early detection. This is why it’s all the more important for women to LISTEN and connect to their bodies because truth be told…ovarian cancer does have some symptoms.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: In the months leading up to my cancer diagnosis I did not feel well. It was a knowing that I had a difficult time defining. Little did I know at the time that I was someone with strong intuition. It took a long string of doctors telling me that I was depressed before I landed in the office of a brilliant gynecological oncologist in Seattle who affirmed for me that indeed I had a strong and trustworthy intuition that very well could have saved my life.
A few months before my diagnosis I started having real, definable symptoms – pain on the right side of my abdomen, shortness of breath, a sudden urge to pee, dizziness and fatigue. Having been told I was depressed I would try to tell myself that these symptoms were all in my head. I was a new mom and struggling with two little babies – of course I felt out of it! But the symptoms continued and I continued to LISTEN to them.
BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE: I became a big complainer about the time my symptoms starting picking up. I kept making doctors appointments. I was determined to get someone to listen to me. I was feeling very fearful and anxious and my husband was at a loss for how to help me. He told me that if I wanted to feel better that it was best to talk to a doctor about my concerns. So that I did.
The gynecologist discovered that I had several cysts on my right ovary. He assured me that this was all nothing to worry about and that cysts by and large come and go and pose no danger. Yes, this is indeed true. Who doesn’t have a friend who hasn’t had a cyst? I tried to tell myself not to worry…but my body didn’t feel right. So I kept going back to the doctor only to be told my fears and worries were all in my head. But I persisted because contrary to what the doctors said my body was giving me all the signals that something was up and I honored it and listened. It didn’t matter that the docs didn’t want to hear me. I kept talking. I became my own ADVOCATE – a bulldog…hell-bound and determined to take care of myself.
Grace finally came in the form of a 5-centimeter cyst that developed on my right ovary – large enough to finally warrant exploratory surgery. I was relieved that I would finally have some answers and wanted to believe the doc who said this surgery was just routine and the cyst looked normal and I had nothing to worry about! A one-hour surgery turned into three and I woke up to this: “You have cancer”.
I now shudder to think what my fate could have been had I not persisted in LISTENING to my body, being my own ADVOCATE and getting adequate care. Yes, I had cancer. But the saving grace for me was that it was found early – Stage 1 – and survival rates for ovarian cancer are similar to those of breast cancer when found early. When caught in its earliest stages, survival rates can be as high as 90 percent (ME!!)! The problem is nearly 75 percent of all ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed in advanced stages. And that has remained unchanged for the past 50 years.
Chemotherapy and a full hysterectomy have allowed me to survive for 10 years. I am cancer free at the moment and I am definitely a strong survivor! I now spend my days attempting to get women to prioritize their health. Part of my work as a Wellness Coach is encouraging women to be in charge of their own bodies and advocating for themselves when they feel something is off. Don’t be afraid to push for quality care if your body is telling you something is not right. LISTEN. Be your own ADVOCATE. These two simple acts could save your life.
Signs and Symptoms of ovarian cancer:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
These symptoms may be caused by ovarian cancer or by other less serious conditions. It is important to check with a doctor, preferably a gynecologist, about these symptoms if they are new and persist for 2-3 weeks, especially if you experience several at one time. Tests for ovarian cancers include a combination pelvic/rectal exam, CA 125 blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound. A Pap smear is NOT a test for ovarian cancer. If ovarian cancer is suspected, consult a gynecologic oncologist.