My color is Teal. I am called an “Ovarian.”
Quite honestly, I did not know much about this type of cancer when I first heard the term “ovarian” in November. Since that time, my knowledge about ovarian cancer has increased as I am now up close and personal with a Stage IV diagnosis.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. This is my first September as an Ovarian and I am compelled to share my journey to raise awareness of this “silent killer.”
My journey began five months before my diagnosis in July 2018. For a few weeks, I had been experiencing pain in my pelvic and abdominal area. The pain was initially sporadic but gradually became more consistent. Occasionally, I also had lower back pain and pain urinating. I started to notice I was having difficulty standing up from a sitting position. As weeks passed, I felt like I was being ripped inside. One night, I had off-the-chart pain. It was at that moment that I knew something was very wrong and I needed medical care.
Over the next several weeks, I saw my primary care provider, my gynecologist and my surgeon who did two surgeries on me nearly 16 years ago. Following several visits with these three medical professionals, including ultrasound and CT scan, I still had no idea what was causing all my pain.
I became more desperate as each day passed. I was fully aware my condition was worsening. I had gained an unusual amount of weight, my abdomen was as hard as a rock, my legs were swollen and I could barely bend them. It had become difficult to walk, drive a car, breathe and, honestly, it was difficult to do much of anything.
On Sunday, Nov. 11, I went to the emergency room at Baptist Health in Lexington. Following an examination, blood work, X-rays and removal of fluid from my abdomen, I was told I was in kidney failure and was very ill. I was told I would be admitted to the hospital for treatment and further tests. I was informed it may take a few days to determine what was wrong. I was relieved not to have been sent home, plus thankful and hopeful I would receive medical care and answers.
I was immediately treated for kidney failure. I was shuffled around the hospital for all types of tests, X-rays and CT scans. I was scheduled for a paracentesis to remove ascites fluid from my abdomen. I watched as containers of a rose-colored fluid were placed on a cart, one by one. It was alarming to me that there were so many containers of fluid.
The doctor said, “You had 7 two-liter bottles removed, a total of fourteen liters of fluid removed.” I was in shock as I laid there on the table with tears silently rolling down my check.
The hospitalist told me they had ruled out several things, including my heart. She went on to tell me they were “highly suspicious” that I had ovarian cancer and that a gynecologic oncologist would be seeing me the next morning. I listened to everything the hospitalist told me. I could tell it was a difficult discussion for her to have with me. I felt she could see my disbelief that this was happening to me.
Bright and early the next morning, the gynecologic oncologist shared with me the suspicion of ovarian cancer. She laid out the plan for an accurate diagnosis, from physical examination to the ascites fluid and possibility of scheduling a surgery to remove tissue. She described the treatment plan for ovarian cancer that would include chemotherapy, a “debulking” surgery and more chemotherapy. Needless to say, I was getting the answers I had desperately seeking for months.
One week later, I started chemotherapy treatments. Three months later the “debulking” surgery restaged me with ovarian cancer stage IV.
And thus, I am officially an “Ovarian.” I am a middle-aged woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A woman who had multiple symptoms for months who was not able to get an early diagnosis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year approximately 21,000 women in the United States will get ovarian cancer. All women are at risk, but generally it is women over 40 who get ovarian cancer with the greatest number of women 60 or older.
The Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance list of ovarian cancer symptoms includes bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain; difficulty eating or feeling full; and urinary frequency or urgency. Symptoms may also include unexplained weight gain and back pain.
Experts suggest a combination of pelvic exam, vaginal ultrasound and Cancer Antigen 125 blood test for diagnosis. Currently, there is no early-detection test for ovarian cancer. A pap test will not detect ovarian cancer.
The American Cancer Society provides information on ovarian cancer and provides details on early detention, diagnosis, staging and treatment.
I share my story to empower other women to be ovarian cancer aware. While I was in touch with my body and fully aware of my symptoms, ovarian cancer was not on my radar nor the initial three medical professionals I saw in Frankfort. I did not know the symptoms I was experiencing were actually ovarian cancer symptoms.
I have read repeatedly that when ovarian cancer is found in its early stages, treatment is most effective. While I thought I was doing everything possible to seek medical assistance, I was being dismissed by these initial medical providers.
I question myself often on what I could have done differently to have received an earlier diagnosis. The only answer I have identified is to seek assistance with a gynecologic oncologist. Unfortunately, I did not know about gynecologic oncologists, nor was I referred to one.
Today, I am more ovarian cancer aware. I feel better than I did a year ago. I know what some of my future challenges are, and while I have no idea where this journey will lead, I am better prepared today.
I have tremendous gratitude to Baptist Health Lexington and its medical team and volunteers. I am especially grateful to Dr. Hope Cottrill and her team at the Gynecologic Oncology Clinic and Infusion Center. I believe that receiving a diagnosis and treatment pulled me out of the depths of hell and back to life.
For more information on ovarian cancer visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.org; Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance at www.ocrahope.org; the American Cancer Society at www.Cancer.org; or Baptist Health Lexington www.Baptisthealth.com/lexington.
Special thanks to the Western Hills High School girls volleyball team, Coach Kristi Buffenmyer, Coach Scott Hudson, boosters and parents for their leadership to sponsor Ovarian Cancer Awareness at the Western Hills High School Volleyball Tournament this past Saturday.
Melissa J. Benton is a Frankfort resident. She can be reached at email@example.com.