Surviving Ovarian Cancer

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Much has been written about breast cancer.

But not so much about ovarian cancer.

When I was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in 1994, there weren't many survivors.

It was almost a death sentence.

I had some symptoms but I didn't know what ovarian cancer symptoms were. I didn't personally know anyone who had ovarian cancer or who had survived.

I did know that I had some cramping in the lower pelvic area, and that I had frequent urination.

Most prominent was the bloating of my stomach. I later learned that bloating is a tell tale sign.

Then the escalating pain spread into the entire pelvic region.

It soon became evident to me that something was going wrong with my body.

I made an appointment with my physician, an internist.

"What was wrong? Was I having an appendicitis attack?"

"No," he said. "We'll run some tests and find out."

After an exam, he ordered an ultrasound, a Barium, and lab work.

The ultrasound showed a mass in the right ovary. I was referred to a gynecologist in Jonesboro who examined the ultrasound x rays and did a physical exam plus a blood test called a CA-125, a marker used in diagnosing ovarian cancer. More than 80 percent of women with advanced ovarian cancer will have an elevated CA-125 level; not useful in detecting early stage disease.

A few days later, I received the news I didn't want to hear.

The CA-125 reading was much higher than the normal range, and indicated that cancer was likely. But only exploratory surgery could reveal if the mass was cancerous or benign.

I was referred to a gynecologic oncologist who did surgery to remove the mass which was cancerous, and to remove as much of the residual cancer cells as possible. The cancer had spread into abdominal organs, as well..

I was diagnosed with epithelial cancer and underwent a complete hysterectomy. There are four stages of ovarian cancer. When found in its early stages, treatment is most effective, but unfortunately the cancer is usually found in an advanced stage.

Almost 70 percent of women are not diagnosed until the disease is advanced to Stage 3 or Stage 1V.

No one told me, but I was given a 15 to 20 percent five year survival rate.

I began chemotherapy treatment two weeks after being dismissed from the hospital. I was scheduled to have the treatments for six to nine months. I could have stopped the treatments at six months but I opted for nine, as a precaution. My future, if any, was still in question.

At one point I was given a one-time intraperitoneal radiation therapy. In this procedure radioactive liquid is put directly into the abdomen through a catheter (small narrow tube).

The chemotherapy treatments were debilitating. I could barely function, often too weak to rise up from the couch. I had no desire to eat the food that friends and family brought to my table. They prayed for my recovery.

But, at last, the chemo treatments ended. I began to gain some weight, to reclaim my appetite. For three more months, I did receive chemo in pill form but my body more readily accepted the pills.

One year after I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I had a second look surgery performed by the gynecologic oncologist. He took numerous biopsies as he examined the pelvic and stomach region.

The result: No cancer was found. Not one cancer cell.

The oncologist came into my hospital room to deliver the good news. Even he seemed surprised by the outcome.

I was afraid to claim my freedom but slowly I began to believe that I was a survivor.

I had periodic follow up doctor visits with the oncologist for over a year. Then the day came when he released me back to my regular doctor.

"You don't need me any longer," he said.

Today I credit his aggressive treatment for my recovery.

Estimated new cases and deaths from ovarian cancer in the United States in 2013 are new cases, 22,240 and deaths, 14,030.

I thankfully claim my place among the survivors.