This month we have the opportunity to turn up the volume on ovarian cancer — otherwise known as “The Whisper” or “The Silent Killer.” As you may sense from those nicknames, ovarian cancer is a dodgy lil’ beeyotch! Her symptoms are vague and most often missed — or misdiagnosed — as anything from endometriosis to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS is the most common misdiagnosis) or dismissed as plain ol’ gas or constipation. After all, no one wants to jump from thinking they are just bloated or have a bad stomachache to thinking it might be cancer! And there is currently no screening test, general or specific, for ovarian cancer. You read that correctly: none — yet.
I was diagnosed at 28 years old with a rare form of ovarian cancer (I was initially misdiagnosed with IBS before heading in the gynecological direction). After exploratory surgery and a week later the full abdominal “unzip”, it was determined that it was Stage 3C ovarian cancer. Late-stage ovarian cancer at 28. Being the overachiever I am, I had not just any cancer or even a more common, treatable/survivable one; I had a cancer whose successful treatment statistics are about the same as guessing right in a shell game (at least it feels that way). Plus, with a rare form of it, I had to cut those stats in half! After surgery, a panel of doctors basically voted on whether or not chemo would even be effective for me. Because of my young age and the fact that I hadn’t had children yet, by majority rule, we went more aggressive and I began a six-month prescription of chemotherapy — which was interrupted by recurrence and another surgery, false remission for a year, and a final surgery in January 2003. This year marks my five year cancer-free milestone!
While there have been many developments and advances in the ovarian cancer chemo cocktail (a cocktail not nearly as fun as a mojito or margarita!), including anti-nausea and anti-allergenics, the most vital and imperative research we must implement is early detection for ovarian cancer. We can’t cure this disease being blind while she isn’t speaking up to be heard on time.
Early detection is the most powerful treatment for any cancer and it is imperative that we generate awareness and funding for this kind of research for ovarian cancer. As is stands today, more than half of ovarian cancer cases are discovered late-stage. And though the number of diagnoses is less than other more heavily-researched and publicized forms of gynecological cancers, due to late-stage diagnosis, it has the number-one highest fatality rate among gynecological cancers. In addition, with successful treatment, the five-year survival rate is around 35 percent in any stage of the disease (and that gets lower with each recurrence).
Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer, said, “Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to.” Strangely and unexpectedly, the word “elite” is accurate for me. I feel very special for having had — and survived — ovarian cancer, and my life has been transformed in the most beautiful and exquisite ways that I could never have imagined. The journey inspired me to create Bald Is Beautiful, through which I have dedicated my life to bringing information, inspiration, comfort, hope, encouragement, and empowerment to others on the cancer journey.
Still, while I survived and was able to find positivity and deep healing in the process, I would be happier if we could prevent others from having to face this disease without the benefit of early detection and more refined & successful treatments.
Thank you for letting me share and for reading! And remember: always smile from the inside out!
Some Extra Bytes:
Tune in to STAND UP 2 CANCER (live telecast on Friday, Sept 5 on NBC, ABC, CBS)
Check out CANARY FOUNDATION (dedicated to funding research for early detection, special focus on ovarian cancer)
Visit GILDA’S CLUB for my favorite cancer support organization in the world!! Support for patients (men, women, children with any form of cancer) and their friends/families/caregivers.