Ovarian cancer - like melanoma - is a silent killer. The symptoms are subtle and easily dismissed: bloating, painful intercourse, sense of urgency or increased frequency for urination, back pain, constipation, fatigue, unusual weight gain, sleepless nights, abdominal pain, headaches, difficult menstrual cycles, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly. I bet that any woman reading this is thinking “uh-oh...” And most of the time, these symptoms are not a cause for serious concern.
There is no Pap smear or mammogram for detection. There is no definitive test for ovarian cancer; even the blood test yields many false positives. The facts from the American Cancer Society are grim:
There is a 5-year 90% survival rate if caught in the early stages, but only 19% are diagnosed then. Caught at Stage III or higher, the 5-year survival rate is as low as 30.6%.
Ovarian cancer is the 5th leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women 35-74.
5%-10% of cases have a genetic link. Family history of breast or colon cancer can also be a risk factor.
This is a picture of my friend, Delle Chatman. In November, 2002, she was diagnosed with a recurring form of ovarian cancer. Her initial surgery didn’t get it all, and she endured four years of treatments before leaving us four years later.
I walked into her hospital room Labor Day, 2006, as her doctor walked out, after telling her that the cancer was back yet again. I knew instantly - and she seemed to, as well - that this was different than the previous recurrences: this was it. We spent the next couple hours making phone calls and lists of things to do, people to do them.
A month later, she announced she was discontinuing treatment. Her body was so tired, had fought so hard, but now it was time to let go of this life. She sent out an email to her friends, who responded instantly, expressing their love for her. “I’m not dead yet,” she insisted. “Save it for the funeral.”
But I told her it was too damn bad she had to listen to people tell her they loved her. Most people don’t have that privilege. Those of us who helped in those last two months - organizing her books and CD’s, packing up dishes, running errands - were grateful we had the chance to tell her and show her how much we loved her.
Make no mistake: even though Delle died almost 5 years ago, she’s here today. She’s the reason I’m writing my book, the reason I get back on track when I’m occasionally derailed, the reason I have the confidence I have in what I’m doing. I talk to her a lot, and yes, now and then I hear her talking back: sometimes scolding, sometimes laughing. Friends die; friendships don’t.
Here are two good resources for information on ovarian cancer symptoms, risk factors and treatment. You owe it to yourself and the women in your life to be vigilant.
Who knows? Maybe teal will become the new pink