Part I - Ovarian Cancer: A Survivor Speaks

Uploaded by AffinityHealthPlan on 28.02.2012

Today I'm here to really talk to you about ovarian cancer. Being a health
professional pharmacist I knew a lot about cancer and chemotherapy.
But being a patient you see it from a whole different perspective.
The first symptom that i had was that I was feeling more tired than usual
which being a woman, a mother, working full-time--
I was actually graduate school--it was
explainable that'd I would be a little bit more tired than usual.
Then by the Spring I noticed other symptoms and
being in health profession I
would have never known
that those were the only signs of ovarian cancer.
So, immediately I went and I had a CAT scan done
and it was a very large mass that they could see on the scan.
And my gynecologist said "you need to have a referral to a gynecology oncologist
and have surgery."
And i had only been to the gynecologist eight months prior. I go every year for
my annual exam.
I have a pap every year.
And one thing that's deceiving is that a pap smear does not detect ovarian
So that's not a good screening test. And this tumor that i had grew so big that
eight months prior there were no signs of it--with either
or when the doctor examined me internally.
When they suspect ovarian cancer what they do is they open up the person--there's
options. Sometimes they can do it laparoscopically (which is making an incision,
you know, in the abdominal area, and going in with a tube--with a camera-to see).
In my case though because the tumor was so large I had to have a full
incision like
almost like you would for either hysterectomy or caesarean section.
And when they open you up the surgeons are looking for
signs of cancer
and they can tell by looking
at you whether
it's looking suspicious.
But they also have to remove
any tumors so what they did--
my tumor was limited to my right ovary
and my right ovary was removed, left ovary,
my fallopian tubes (that lead up to the ovaries), my uterus and my cervix.
They even removed my appendix because my appendix was stuck
to my ovary.
And then while they are doing the surgery they actually do biopsies of
your lymph nodes to make sure that the cancer has not spread to your
And then your hospitalized, you know, you heal and they
wait for the pathology report to come back to tell you exactly what stage of
cancer you have.
And fortunate for me, I had Stage I which means that the cancer
was detected very early and limited only to the ovary.
So i had a total abdominal hysterectomy
and instantly when into menopause.
For ovarian cancer
the surgery--the removing of the tumor--is actually call "debulking".
And once they do that surgery you have to be followed up with chemotherapy.
And there is standard chemo--
chemotherapy--which is medication that they give you through the vain. i
received six cycles of
chemotherapy and i went
once every three weeks
to an outpatient infusion center
where i went for the day. It actually was
a long
day. It was like
going to work for eight hours.
And they gave me
plenty of medication to make sure that i had no nausea at all because that was
important to me.
You know they discuss all the side effects and they did tell me
that the chemotherapy would make me lose my hair
um... and that it
might make me nauseous and that it would cause my blood count
to be effected so i would become anemic
i would be at increased risk for infection...
And it's four years later and i'm hear and I'm surviving and unfortunately
with ovarian cancer
the earlier the prognosis the better the survival.
For women that are in Stages II, III and IV
(which is the majority of women that are diagnosed)--I'd say eighty five percent
of women diagnosed are diagnosed in late stages--
and the reason why is because the symptoms are so vague
that women wouldn't even think to tell their doctor that they are experiencing
these things and even if they did
their primary physician, there general doctor, wouldn't even think
that perhaps it's cancer if a woman is saying there they're bloated.
So the important thing is
early screening and detection because the later
there really isn't a cure... you can treat the cancer
but there's a high rate of re-occurrence of the cancer
I think it's important for people to realize that this is not a condition
that you get
as an older woman
Most women that get this are between the ages of 40
to 60
I have no family history of anyone with ovarian cancer.
Another risk factor is if anyone in my family had breast cancer at a young age.
i did not have that.
i was the first person in my family to have cancer
and have ovarian cancer.
For my children...
Éso one way certainly for someone who has a strong family
history of ovarian cancer, the other women in their family
could be screened more regularly.
So they could to do a CA-125 blood test.
But again i want to point out it's not a very sensible rely or tumor marker.
It could be elevated if you're pregnant or have the flu. So you cannot immediately
operate on someone if they have an elevated CA-125.
Another thing is a transvaginal ultrasound where they actually do an
ultrasound vaginally which is a little bit more diagnostic. They could see
the ovaries better
when they do an internal exam.
But that's all screening. The only way to prevent it is to remove
the ovaries
and it's not something that women are going to do.
Unless, and it could be done, if you have a family history where
you've had people in your family die
or you find out that you have a certain gene
that makes you more at risk
for breast and ovarian cancer
those are patients who they may encourage early on
to become pregnant and have children and they have their ovaries
Contraceptives actually reduce the risk of developing
ovarian cancer.
I had never used
birth control pills. I
was taught to believe that they could course harm.
So here I thought I was being healthy but maybe if i had done that by I would have had
some protection.
And there's something comforting about knowing that you not alone
that what you're
experiencing someone else has. Don't think of support
for just the patient--the cancer survivor--because
my family needed support,
my kids, my husband, my parents.
Another organization that's a free
organization in Manhattan is called SHARE.
And they offer both on-site educational programs as well as
free phone support
where you can actually be connected with another
ovarian cancer survivor.
that's huge--to be connected with another survivor that may be in the same stage
that you were diagnosed.
I go on a listserv
where other ovarian survivors post information about trials that they're
involved in 'cause that's important. You know, if you're chemotherapy is not
you may need to research other treatments that are out there.
There was one woman on this
email listserv
who was going to go to another state
and she was asking about hotels in the area and one woman offered her her home
to come in and stay.
So there's support out there you just have to know to ask for it.
I find that sometimes patients are overwhelmed I know I certainly was.
There's a lot of information.
A lot of family and friends offer advice.
But it's best to get it from organizations that really deal with
cancer and there are a lot
of them out there. So once a month I actually volunteer to talk to medical
at a local
medical school. They're actually doing the rotation and learning about
Myself and other survivors tell them about our symptoms an our story in the
hopes and that when they are treating patients
if they hear women talk about these vague complaints that maybe they'll save
another woman's life with early diagnosis and treatment.
So that's something that i'm passionate about because
once this happens to you you wanna get the word out there and make sure no one
has to go through
something so devastating
as this.