In September of 2015, I was living in that wasteland between labor and menopause. You know what I mean…you are so busy ferrying kids to the dentist, the eye doctor, the pediatrician, and occasionally the emergency room, that you barely have time to think about your own health. Maybe you squeeze in an annual pap smear or a mammogram every other year. Mostly you self-medicate with wine, zinc lozenges, and prayer.
You occasionally notice changes in your body. Maybe you put on a little weight or you pee when you sneeze. You get a little back pain or you feel tired more often. You pass it off as a side effect of being a mom, or getting older, or being out of shape.
That's how it was for me. I was never the poster child for health and fitness, but those little changes were starting to pile up. Nothing big, really, but a cluster of symptoms I was saving up to discuss at my annual gyn visit. I felt tired. I had some nagging lower back pain. I started wearing Poise pads because I couldn't always make it to the bathroom. I seemed to be bloated and gassy all the time. I started spotting after sex. At 48 years old, I assumed that I was seeing signs of perimenopause, or maybe side effects of the Mirena, or the toll of being overweight.
And then, things got real. Severe abdominal pain…emergency room…ultrasounds…CT scans…a mass on my ovary and fallopian tube…Stage II ovarian cancer. A gynecologic oncologist removed all my lady parts and set my course for further treatment.
My first piece of advice to anyone who is diagnosed with cancer is “stay off the Internet.”
From misleading charts of survival rates to quack medicine to chemo horror stories, the Web is a minefield of misinformation and melodrama. It is important to let your own story unfold. My story included six rounds of chemotherapy, dozens of dinners dropped off by friends and colleagues, and tremendous support from my employer. Yes, there was baldness and barfing. There was indescribable bone pain and fatigue. But there was love and care, and thankfully, remission.
Remission is a funny word. It is like a back-handed compliment. It means you don't have any signs of the disease anymore but you aren't cured. For now, remission is good enough for me.
I have hair again. I have enough energy to get back into that constant cycle of appointments for my kids. I have the opportunity to tell other women “don't ignore the warning signs.”
Now it is September again…Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Back in March, at the end of my treatment, I started thinking about how I could encourage other women to pay attention to their bodies without scaring them to death. Some talented friends helped – Jen at Little Bear Photography and Nina at Nina Alviar Makeup Artistry. We created some fun photos and a simple message: it’s probably nothing, but it could be ovarian cancer, and early detection can save your life.
One in 75 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime. Survival rates are historically very poor because too often women are diagnosed in the later stages of the disease. There is no simple test for ovarian cancer; a pap smear will not detect ovarian cancer. It's up to you. If you have any combination of these symptoms for more than two weeks, get checked out by your gynecologist:
- trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- pelvic or abdominal pain
- feeling the need to urinate often or urgently
- upset stomach or heartburn
- back pain
- pain during sex
- menstrual changes
It's probably nothing, but it could be ovarian cancer, and early detection can save your life.
Have you ever had a favorite recipe that started to feel stale? You know the dish is still good, but you just aren’t in the mood to make it or eat it anymore. So, you put it aside for awhile and maybe even forget about it. Then, after some time passes, you pull the recipe out and dinner that night tastes so good. Right now, motherhood tastes like the first bite of a well-loved but forgotten recipe. Delicious, familiar flavor that is brighter somehow since it was put away for awhile. Don’t get me wrong, I still loathe doing laundry, and I get frustrated refereeing fights between my two boys, and the morning rush out the door drives me crazy, but I go to bed each night grateful for the magic and the mundane of being a mom and a survivor.