Today is one of a couple days a year that I get up on a great big huge soapbox about something very important -- a major women's health issue: ovarian cancer, a still frequently deadly form of cancer. It's one of the forms of cancer where early detection makes a MAJOR difference in survival rates. But many women, even those who do periodic breast self-exams, don't know the symptoms. If you don't know the symptoms, see the nice big block quote below -- not to be overly dramatic, but it could save someone's life some day.
My mother died seven years and a half years ago of ovarian cancer. She's survived breast cancer in the late 1970s, and we'd hoped that she'd beat the cancer this time as well.
Note: This is an encore presentation of this diary ;-) I'd thought about stopping my soapbox lectures on this topic, but decided that (given the current political climate and the Republican war on women and women's health), I re-post it.....
I'm too young to be an orphan..... My mother was 10 years younger than my father, and (given that women tend to live around 7 years longer on average than men) we'd spent years joking about filling her 17 years of widowhood. Oh, the plans we'd made: a Jane Austen tour of England, a cross country trip visiting Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, maybe a trip somewhere to volunteer to build a school or women's health clinic in Asia or Africa. But all those plans -- I'll have to do them without her. So far, the one I've done is the trip to the knitter's paradise of Fair Isle. Seven years after her death, that still really hurts to think about.
My mother had every expectation of living a long life. Her mother (who smoked for 70+ years, was an alcoholic, never ate a great diet, and never exercised) died at 91. All four of her grandparents lived to be at least 90. A couple greats-grandmother lived to the ripe old age of 103.
So, when Mum (non-smoker, light social drinker, careful eater, regular exerciser) retired at 63, we expected to have a couple decades or more to have fun in.
My mother was one of the world's special people. She worked a more than full-time job most of my life, spent much of my childhood earning a PhD, was active in the local UU church, and devoted lots of time and energy to community organizations. But my brother and I were never neglected. We just got dragged along; I remember when I was 5 or so being given the task of sorting National Geographics from the other donated magazines at the AAUW scholarship-funding book sale ;-)
Oh, and my brother and I considered store-bought cookies a real treat, as Mum pretty much didn't allow them in the house; she made her own, as well as the raisin bread Dad preferred to storebought.
Mum, on the left.... enjoying herself. She didn't really like this picture but it's one of my favorites of her, as she was really enjoying herself ;-)
Another favorite, with my father:
With a well-loved kitty:
Already sick, but still travelling (to visit family in AZ), and never still....
Even the minor GI complaints she had (put down to the retirement and December holiday parties) didn't seem too important. But.... 27 days after she retired, she was officially diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Two years of chemo and other treatments later (fortunately, she had excellent health insurance!), she died way too young. She fought it (including walking home from the hospital more than once to get some exercise in.... all 3.3 miles; yeah, she also walked to the hospital when she was more than 9 months pregnant to give birth to both me and my younger brother.....), and had support from some pretty amazing friends as well as her family, but it was at stage 4 when diagnosed - five year survival rates barely hit 15%, even with the wonderful care she got at a top cancer research center.
From the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of ovarian cancer:Please -- read and remember the list of ovarian cancer symptoms; also, realize that ovarian cancer is often misdiagnosed as GI problems. Early diagnosis greatly increases the survival rate. If you or a woman you know has these symptoms, get them checked out. The five year survival rate for Stage II ovarian cancer is 66%, compared the 15% or so survival rate when diagnosed at Stage IV.
Recent studies have shown that women with ovarian cancer are more likely than are other women to consistently experience the following symptoms:
* Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
* Urinary urgency
* Pelvic discomfort or pain
Additional signs and symptoms that women with ovarian cancer may experience include:
* Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
* Unexplained changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
* Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
* Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
* Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
* Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
* A persistent lack of energy
* Low back pain
* Changes in menstruation
Mum died seven years and a half years ago. My family isn't big on memorials (Dad and I discovered a few years ago that no ever got around to putting up a gravestone for his mother, who died in 1975....). But this icky anniversary seems like a good reason to come out of my more usual shy introvert shell to post this, in the hopes that someone who needs it reads it.
Recently, while cleaning out my father's condo, I found some things Mum had written.... In 1978, writing about her first experience of cancer, I was once again impressed by how matter-of-factly she handled that illness (and her later cancer, which had such a much less good outcome). I was also surprised by her uncharacteristically immodest description of herself ;-) But it the final line that prompts me to post these diaries periodically.....
"We’ll do a biopsy and a frozen section and have you right there in case we need to do more" my family doctor said after examining the lump on my breast. The surgeon, when he stopped to see me before the operation, used practically the same words. After visiting hours the night before surgery, a nurse brought me the permission slip to sign, the paper that coldly stated "possible radical mastectomy.’ Of course, I had known what "more" would be, but I was angry that two doctors were unable to say the name of the operation or the cause, cancer, directly.Finally, just to end on a less dreary note: a couple of my father's photos as a reward for reading this far ;-)
I talk about my condition, mention it in letters to friends, because I think we should be open about cancer and know what the treatment is like. So far, my experience has been much less dreadful than I feared. But as long as doctors do not say cancer or refer patients to a mastectomy volunteer for practical help, or they talk about Vienna all through an office visit, I realize that the subject is still one surrounded by superstition and fear. Because of this fear, some women do not have lumps examined promptly. The longer they wait, the worse the odds become. Ours is a breast oriented society. Mastectomy is mutilation. But even with one breast, I am clever, charming, witty, intelligent, efficient, and huggable. Alone, I’m not going to overcome such superstition, but with others who share my condition, I am willing to tell about it and, perhaps, reduce a few fears.