September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and I want to take a moment to share with you my story. This is my 20th year as an OC thriver/survivor!
When I was 23 years old, newly engaged, employed at my dream job, attending grad school and training for a triathlon, I began to feel terrible. I was tired all the time. I felt bloated. And I began having brief but sharp abdominal pain that would double me over in pain. Over the course of several months, I went to half a dozen doctors to find out what might be wrong with me – They did pregnancy tests, I was told I was doing too much, that I had a possible gluten intolerance, that perhaps I had irritable bowel syndrome, that it must be bad menstrual cramps, or the best one – that it may be all in my head. My relatively minor symptoms that were dismissed or misdiagnosed by 6 different doctors turned out to be stage 3c ovarian cancer. There was a grapefruit size tumor on my left ovary and various other cancerous cells throughout my pelvic region.
Which later, I was like – of course that’s why I didn’t feel good – There was a grapefruit sized tumor in me!
I’ll spare you the long crazy details of what it was like getting diagnosed at age 23 with cancer but suffice to say it was scary and eye-opening and life-altering.
Anyway, I was fortunate in that with the total hysterectomy & clean margins, I did not need chemo or radiation. I did have to have some followup surgeries and procedures to fix my left ureter that was damaged during the initial surgery. So the total recovery time was almost 6 months – about 5 months longer than expected. I couldn’t complain though – I was just so thankful to be alive. I was also fortunate that I had a great job at the time with solid health insurance and that our families were able to help us out a lot with the post-surgical care when Will had to go back to work.
The most frequent symptoms of ovarian cancer include: Bloating, Unusual Fatigue, Pelvic/Abdominal Pain; Urinary Frequency and Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly. Other symptoms may include: Constipation or diarrhea; nausea, indigestion or gas; abnormal vaginal bleeding, unexplained weight loss/gain; shortness of breath, low back pain. Out of those symptoms I only had 3 – I was really tired, I felt bloated and I had severe, sharp abdominal pain that would only last for a few minutes before dissipating. Which I think is why I was misdiagnosed – what woman hasn’t felt tired and everyone has abdominal pain at some point, right? This is one of the reasons they call it a silent killer – the symptoms are considered “normal.”
If I hadn’t kept following up with doctors, if I hadn’t told my mom my symptoms and listened to her about getting into a doctor that day I most likely wouldn’t be here today. It was caught just in the nick of time. In the span of ~5 months I went from feeling healthy and having a normal annual exam to having a grapefruit sized cancerous tumor removed from my body. That’s how fast it grew. That’s how fast it spread in my body. The 5 year year survival rate for stage 3 ovarian cancer is not good at all, so everyday I’m thankful to be here. You really have to be a self-advocate when it comes to your health. Only you know when something isn’t right or normal. And keep going to doctors until you can find one that will listen to you.
For more information about ovarian cancer visit the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance. They are one of the nonprofit organizations we are proud to support each year.
But this is why I’m so passionate about getting after my goals and dreams NOW and not someday and encouraging others to do the same. Life is short friends and we just don’t know how much time we have.
xo, jenny, Founder, Commit30