Tuesday, September 15, 2009

For the Women and For Those Who Love Them!

This is to encourage women of all ages (yes, all ages) to be aware of symptoms so that in the event that you acquire this disease (pray not), you will be informed enough that you will seek treatment early. Early diagnosis ups the odds for life tremendously!

Ovarian cancer may be known as the "silent cancer" but it is not entirely Silent! It manifests in many early symptoms. It may only "whisper" but it is not "silent".

Nearly 89% of all diagnosed women experience symptoms even at early stages, yet we often dismiss them. And worse, too many women have been diagnosed after their doctors ignored them for years. But each of us has the power to take control over our own health.

Please be aware that as a patient, you have the right to copies of everything in your medical file! Blood tests, annual physicals, lab tests, mammogram results, etc. Everything.

In my own case, as I look back, I see many symptoms that I should have recognized if only I had been knowledgeable! And my doc (a female!) should have recognized them, too. In fairness to her, however, I realize that I did not emphasize these symptoms enough!

  • Fatigue (I thought I was just getting older)
  • Bloating abdomen (I thought my body was just changing shape due to age. Ovarian cancer causes fluid buildup in the abdominal area, hence the bloating abdomen.)
  • I had an unexplained bout of iron deficiency anemia. A one-a-day vitamin with iron over a month's time took care of it. But yes, this can be a symptom of cancer in the body.
  • Frequent need to urinate. Before leaving the house to go anywhere I would make a "preventive" trip to the bathroom. During the night I had to get up 3-4 times for that bathroom trip. Again, I thought it was age or due to a partial hysterectomy many years prior.
  • Pelvic or abdominal pains. In my case I had a vague and uncomfortable sensation under the edge of the bottom right rib. It was uncomfy enough that I could not lie on my side to sleep. It bothered me only at night or when lying down. Some women suffer much pain before being diagnosed. Others may notice only mild annoying discomfort.
  • Constipation or diarrhea. I did not have these symptoms. (Frankly, I've always dealt with constipation issues...mostly because I did not eat right.)
  • Trouble eating or feeling full too quickly... I did not have this problem.
  • High testosterone level. (This was brought to my attention after I wrote the original post. A rare type of ovarian tumor can cause a very high testosterone level. Yes, women have testosterone. Symptons, besides high testosterone level, would include hirsutism, or excessive hair on the face or chest.)
  • Unexplained iron deficiency anemia...As I think back, I had an unexplained anemia about 7 months prior to diagnosis. I looked it up online, and yes, this can be a symptom. Somehow the growing cancer and resultant growing blood vessels can cause some type of anemia. Mine went away after taking one-a-day vitamins with iron. But it was, in actuality, another symptom of the cancer.
  • Unexplained itching of the very top of my scalp. I've added this one, too, since my original post. Again, as I think back, prior to my diagnosis I noticed that the top of my scalp, the crown and not the sides, became itchy...but only as I was brushing my hair. Any other time I did not notice it. But once I began brushing, my scalp wanted me to continue brushing vigorously to allay the itch. This itching disappeared when I commenced my first series of chemo. Then several months later, when I relapsed, the itching appeared again. And again, with the new chemo, it disappeared.
I was fortunate in that I kept copies of all blood results during annual physicals. I noticed (my doc did not) an abnormally high reading of "alkaline phosphatase". Google informed me that this could mean a problem with either liver/bones/cancer/gall bladder. So because of the pain under the rib and because of this abnormal reading, I requested (my doc did not) an ultrasound of the gall bladder. That showed a large gallstone even though I had not had any gallstone attacks. I asked for surgery (my doc did not) and it was during the gall bladder surgery that the cancer was found. Two weeks later I had another surgery, this time to debulk the cancer before beginning chemo.

When symptoms occur that are unusual for you, or when they are present daily and last for weeks, you should see a doctor, preferably a gynecologist or a gynecological oncologist. When ovarian cancer is diagnosed early, the chance for a cure is enhanced greatly!! Better to be safe than sorry.

No single test can detect ovarian cancer. But symptoms should lead to various tests and all combined together should give your doctor a clear picture of your problem.

Ovarian cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer death among women and kills more women than all the other gyn-cancers combined. There is no reliable test....so it is up to YOU to know your body and be aware of unexplained changes. And if your doctor pooh-poohs you, ask for a second opinion.


Cat Rocketship said...

I'm glad that you were so proactive in your treatment! I listened not long ago to an interesting report on NPR about doctor/patient relationships and how doctors, on average, let a patient speak for only three seconds before interrupting them and most appointments last 3-5 minutes. Combine that with doctors who are reluctant to consider that their patients might have a good understanding of the workings of their ailments, and it can be hard to take your care into your own hands.

Sandy said...

Very informative, thank you. Glad to hear you were on top of things and just shows all of us that we should be also.

Elle Bee said...

You're one smart cookie. Good for you for taking your life into your own hands!
Thanks for all the essential information.

Sheri said...

Thanks for the information. Hope your doing well.

Glynis said...

I wish you could come with me as I do my presentations! :) I have been asked to be a speaker for the Listen to the Whispers program for Ovarian Cancer Canada - speaking up and out about Ovarian Cancer. You said it all here, my dear! Thanks for this. x