September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Those of you who know me, have read my “About me section” or have been following my blog know that I lost my Mother to ovarian cancer when I was 18. She was only 49. We also lost my aunt to ovarian cancer when she was 52 and my great grandmother to ovarian cancer when she was 43. My Mother’s and aunt’s stories about their ovarian cancer diagnoses are very different. My aunt had been having severe stomach pain (especially after she ate), shooting pain down her legs and horrible periods for a while and went to see her doctor. He told her he thought the pain was caused from her high stress levels and to go home and do stress exercises. She eventually got a second opinion and they could actually feel the tumor before even running any tests. She was diagnosed at, age 50, with Stage IIIb ovarian cancer that was already on the liver. On the other side of the spectrum, my Mom found hers early. She was having very bad side pains that eventually made my Dad talk her into going to the ER. They thought it was her appendix and as they were in surgery, they found that one of her ovaries had gangrene (years before she had had her tubes tied). They took that ovary out, but left the other one in and when they performed pathology determined she had Stage II ovarian cancer. I was only 14 at the time and my Dad had been with her the entire time in the hospital and left to pick me and my sister up from school to bring us to see my Mom. During those 20-30 minutes (seriously, the hospital is just down the road from the schools), a doctor came into my Mom’s room and told her she had ovarian cancer and there was nothing he could do for her but make her comfortable for the next six months. My poor Mom! It had only been about 4 months since she lost her sister to the same disease and now she finds out she has it too. Luckily, my parents decided that doctor was a jerk and got a second opinion. I believe that is probably why she lived long enough to see me graduate from high school (about 4.5 years longer). I suppose she may have only had 6 months to live had she just assumed that doctor knew exactly what he was doing and had listened to him.
I wanted to share the details with you because ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer. Ovarian cancer survival rates are much lower than many other cancers that affect women. The symptoms that seem to be most associated with it can often be mistaken for other health issues, which in turn can contribute to a later stage diagnosis. To spread awareness of 4 main symptoms of ovarian cancer, several organizations, including the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) and the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation (GCF) have combined forces to spread the word, BEAT. BEAT stands for Bloating that is persistent, Eating less and feeling fuller, Abdominal pain, and Trouble with your bladder. Additional symptoms commonly reported include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities; however it is important to note that these occur at an equal rate in the normal population of women without ovarian cancer (http://www.ovariancancer.org/). A woman in the normal population has a lifetime risk of about 1.4% and women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have a lifetime risk ranging from 10-60% of developing ovarian cancer. The 5- and 10-year relative survival rates for ovarian cancer patients are 46% and 39%, respectively (http://www.ovariancancer.org/). The survival rates, of course, vary depending on the diagnosis stage. Although mortality rates for many cancers have decreased over the last 30 years, ovarian cancer mortality rates have remained unchanged. The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance has a wealth of information and statistics and also flyers to spread the word on BEAT (http://www.ovariancancer.org/).
The main message of this post is to please be aware of your body and trust that you know your body better than anyone else. Trust your instincts and be your own health advocate. Maybe spreading a little knowledge on known symptoms will one day help a woman get to her doctor a bit quicker than she normally would have. Please pay attention to your body, know your family history and stay persistent. Awareness and knowledge are power!
Oh and go teal this month! It’s the ovarian cancer awareness color. Check out Teal Toes!
Until next time, know and spread the word of BEAT, pay attention to your body, and stay healthy! :)