Funny how a person can remember exactly where he or she was when something bad happens that affects your life profusely. I have days that are forever etched in my mind. One of the foremost is the day I found out my mother had ovarian cancer. Even worse, I was sitting with her at that exact moment and I often wonder what was going through her mind when she heard that word…that awful “C” word…no ones wants to hear. That day began a journey that lasted a little over three years. A journey that I spent with my mother…trying to be her support through the bad days and helping her live life just a little better on those good days.
September is recognized as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. September is the month I lost my beautiful mother to her fight against this disease (September 23, 2004). In a touch of irony, teal (one of mother’s favorite colors) is the official color of the ribbons, jewelry and other items used to bring awareness to this deadly cancer.
How can a vibrant person who loves life and has a great respect for health get mixed up in this fight? How can one so aware of the health of others not see this coming?
Long regarded as the ‘silent killer’ ovarian cancer is almost always detected in late stages. A person is incredibly lucky to be diagnosed in the first stages. Many are able to get help while the disease is in the second stage. But…most ovarian cancers are found in stage three and stage four. For those unfamiliar with these stages, let me give a quick primer. In Stage One, cancer is limited to one or both ovaries. Stage Two has the cancer in one or both ovaries and it has spread to other pelvic structures. By Stage Three not only have one or both ovaries been involved with the disease but also either the cancer has spread beyond the pelvis and is in the lining of the abdomen or cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. The tumor is limited to the true pelvis but also malignant extension to the small bowel. By Stage Four again one or both ovaries are involved and the cancer has actual metastasized to the liver or lungs. Also, the pleural fluid (excess fluid located around the lungs) contains ovarian cancer cells.
For each of the first three stages there are three grades of I, II or III…each a step worse than the next as far as the exposure to the cancer.
My mother, when hers was found, was already at Third Stage, III. Not to be graphic, but to be helpful to you, her cancer had spread into her pelvis area, her abdomen and its lining. None was found in her lymph nodes. When she had surgery two LARGE tumors were removed…one located right at her stomach; also she had to have the protective lining to her abdomen removed, leaving her susceptible to herniation of that area of her body. With the ascites (fluid) that occurs with many cancers plus this loss of abdominal lining, she often had to have the fluid drained (I actually sat with her many occasions when this was done (mind you, she was awake for these procedures)…while it relieves pressure on organs and gives the patient relief it also speeds the accumulation of even MORE fluid).
I know I am not painting a pretty picture, but it is a picture of a wonderful, brave woman who loved her life…suffering one of the deadliest cancers today. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is not called a silent killer for nothing. Symptoms are not very easy to spot. And when they are, often they are mistaken for gall bladder trouble, weight gain or other maladies.
My mother thought she had gall bladder trouble. She experienced some bloating and had trouble with not wanting to eat at times. Food didn’t seem to agree with her…either she wasn’t hungry or although hungry she couldn’t eat very much. Spotting/unusual bleeding occurred even though she’d already gone past menopause. She never mentioned constipation or abdominal pain to me but these are also signs of a possible illness. Her stomach appeared distended, which she attributed to a possible gall bladder problem. Again, nothing alarming and nothing too out of the ordinary that she felt in danger. Taken all together, these symptoms are quite obvious she was sick. But they all didn’t happen at the same times. Also, by the time these symptoms are all coming together there is a great possibility the cancer has ventured into the Stage Three area.
According to ovariancancer.org you should also watch for other symptoms that have been commonly reported by women with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse and menstrual irregularities. However, these other symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also found in equal frequency in women in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.
These are not silent symptoms. A person can and does notice these unusual or uncommon things as they happen to the body, especially a combination of a few. These are signs that you take and run straight to your doctor!
Early detection is KEY! For those in the high risk category, there is the CA-125 test, while it does have false positives…it measure the concentration of protein CA-125 (elevated numbers are found in cancerous cells). Transvaginal ultrasounds are a wonderful backup to this test. My mother had these tests done at regular intervals while undergoing chemotherapy and during a brief remission to measure the rise or fall of the number of cancer cells…determining the advancement or sometimes loss of numbers in cancer cells.
OVA1 has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for determining risks for surgery and helps determine if surgery can be done by a gynecologist or a gynecological oncologist – a doctor who is specially trained to treat women with gynecological cancers. My mother’s surgery was done by a gynecologic-oncologist.
Pelvic exams, like those you get in your annual exam (ladies, get those examinations) do not usually detect ovarian cancer. If it does it is usually in the advanced stages. They are helpful and should not be overlooked as they will be part of the official diagnosis and staging of ovarian cancer. They are also vital in keeping other medical problems at bay.
Avon Books has made an initial donation of $25,000 to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. And Avon has announced that beginning August 30, it is committed to donating 25¢ from the sale of each book, physical and eBook, in the “K.I.S.S and Teal” promotion between 8/30/2011 and 2/28/2012, up to an additional $25,000 toward programs that support ovarian cancer patients and their families. Be sure to look for the KISS and Teal logo on your next Avon purchase! You can also go to their web page to make individual donations.
A ‘critique raffle” is being held by fellow writers for author Heather McCollum…who is fighting ovarian cancer with dignity and with grace. Five fellow authors are donating critiques to be raffled at $1 per chance with the proceeds going to fund awareness of ovarian cancer and the need to find a cure. I find this a sweet, heartfelt gesture and would love anyone reading this blog to check it out at http://www.virginiakantra.com/CritiquesforHeather.html.
Treatment of ovarian cancer includes one or any combination of the following: surgery, chemotherapy, intraperitoneal chemotherapy and radiation. Naturally, a person could expect hair loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, nerve problems, sexual issues, diarrhea or constipation, differing tastes of foods and problems with teeth and gums and what is known as “chemobrain”, forgetfulness or trouble concentrating following chemotherapy. If it goes into remission please continue to get regular checkups, for around 70 percent of patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer will have a recurrence.
My mother enjoyed a few months without chemotherapy and with low CA-125 numbers, then it returned and seemed to never respond to treatment. According to the ovariancancer.org site:
One of the factors in determining a patient’s risk of recurrence is the stage of the cancer at diagnosis:
- Patients diagnosed in stage I have a 10 percent chance of recurrence.
- Patients diagnosed in stage II have a 30 percent chance of recurrence.
- Patients diagnosed in stage III have a 70 to 90 percent chance of recurrence.
- Patients diagnosed in stage IV have a 90 to 95 percent chance of recurrence.
We need better early detection. We need reliable tests that can find this illness in its earliest stages. We need more accurate screening tools!!
Please take a few minutes to look at a few ovarian cancer sites. Famed Saturday Night Live member, Gilda Radner, died of this disease. A great organization was founded by her husband after her death because she’d felt “no one should face cancer alone”. Along with the sites I’ve mentioned, visit Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, A Survivor’s Journey For Women with Cancer, Ovarian Cancer?? Pass the Wine…Now!, Wikipedia List of Women with Ovarian Cancer…or one of the scores of sites for information concerning finding, treating and curing this disease.
Please, listen to your body! Insist on more attention to ovarian cancer research and testing. Ladies (and gentlemen) please pass along the link to this blog to raise awareness with others who should know more about this deadly cancer. Let’s raise awareness among our writing (and reading) community!
Let’s make many, many more people aware of this most deadly disease,