1 in 75 women develop ovarian cancer during their lifetime. I was one of them.
I was 25 when I was diagnosed with stage 1 Ovarian Cancer. I had never had children (or sex for that matter), and I was in the third semester of graduate school. The symptoms that I had were easy to explain away: fatigue and weight gain. Oh, and I had to pee. A lot. But I was in grad school with an extremely hectic schedule and no time to take care of myself. I drank lots of caffeine and bought bigger clothes.
It wasn’t until I had what I thought was three periods in six weeks that I went to the doctor. It was my first time visiting a gynecologist. She thought that my uterus was enlarged and gave me a pregnancy test (she didn’t believe me when I told her there was no way I could be pregnant). After the test came back negative, she told me to see a specialist. “It’s probably fibroids,” she said, referring to fibroid tumors.
I managed to finish out the semester (I went to the doctor on Dec. 1) with only one incomplete before I headed home to my parents. We had some connections at one of the hospitals in Little Rock, Arkansas, so I was able to get in rather quickly.
The ultrasound didn’t work. They couldn’t find my uterus. That had to do a vaginal ultrasound instead. They found my uterus, but my left ovary wasn’t visible because of a large mass.
I won the most interesting patient of the day.
I didn’t have insurance so we didn’t do any expensive tests. Instead, we scheduled surgery for two days after Christmas. It wasn’t until this point in my journey that I started to actually feel pain. I also looked six months pregnant.
In that first surgery, they removed my omentum, a liter and a half of fluid, and an 8.5 pound tumor the size of a football that was my left ovary. My best friend had an 8 pound baby a few weeks later.
The tumor was sent off and came back with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer: borderline tumor.
Then came the oncologist. I was terrified that I would have to have a hysterectomy, but he told me that was a last resort. Even if I was stage 4, he would leave everything in as long as possible.
My second surgery resulted in the loss of my appendix and some lymph nodes.
I was stage 1. We had caught it in time. I was lucky. There was no chemo and no radiation. I had four years of checkups before being cleared for good. The chances of it coming back are almost nothing.
I was lucky. Many women are not.
Ovarian Cancer doesn’t get the hype that Breast Cancer does. Everyone loves boobs, but ovaries don’t get the same love. They are SISTER CANCERS. And worse, most of the symptoms go undetected–when they are finally noticed and taken care of, women are often in stage 4, which is the most serious stage.
Know the symptoms:
Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often.
Pelvic or abdominal pain.
Trouble eating or feeling full quickly.
Changes in bowel habits.
Lower back pain.
Uncomfortable or painful intercourse.
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
Pelvic or abdominal pain.
Abnormal or postmenopausal bleeding.
Unexplained weight loss or gain.
Persistent, gastrointestinal complaints such as gas, nausea and indigestion.