When the Killer Is Not So Silent

Ovarian cancer was long thought to be asymptomatic and mostly a threat to older white women. One survivor learned the hard way that there's no such thing as a typical victim

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The best and worst thing about cancer is life is never the same after you’ve been diagnosed. For me, being healthy used to mean fitting in a lunchtime workout at the gym, but these days, I measure my progress by blood tests and CT scan results. Hearing my doctor utter three mundane words, “Everything looks good,” is like winning a victory lap–the result of enduring dozens of inch-long needles that have ruined my veins, the impending nausea, and the countless days I was too sick to get out of bed.

But somewhere along the way, through the fear, tears, anger, pain, and dizzying realization of my mortality, I shed the vestiges of those overwhelming emotions like a snake sloughs its skin and emerged a winner–a survivor. How I arrived here is a lesson in self-advocacy.

In February of 2008, after suffering weeks of indigestion and bloating, I started seeing a gastroenterologist. Because I celebrated Christmas and New Year’s in Mexico, I thought perhaps I had eaten too many roadside tacos or accidentally drunk the water.

When a prescription for heartburn did little to combat my symptoms by late March, my doctor ordered an ultrasound to determine why I was losing weight while my bloating continued to worsen. He called me when the test revealed two large masses on my ovaries. “One is the size of a softball,” he said, concerned. “You need to get on your gynecologist’s surgery schedule today.”

Panic instantly set in, but when I spoke to my GYN, she thought a cyst she had found on my right ovary years before had simply grown and needed to be removed. She promised to follow up with me when she returned from vacation a week later. I recall her casual response: “Your chances of having ovarian cancer are low.”

Her nonchalance was unsettling, and I insisted on getting answers immediately. I called her office at least five times a day while she was away. I don’t know what I expected her staff to do, but my daily harassment finally prompted the nurse practitioner to administer a CA-125 blood test, which measures the concentration of CA-125, a protein present in malignant tumors. CA-125 is found in greater concentration in ovarian cancer cells and has become one of the more reliable ways to identify and monitor the status of ovarian cancer.


Ovarian Cancer Risks & Figures

Presidential Proclamation: National Ovarian Cancer Month

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