September 2011 :: the month that drastically changed the dynamic of my entire family forever. This was the month that my mother was diagnosed with stage 3C Ovarian Cancer, oddly enough during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. That moment will be etched in my mind forever. We walked into MD Anderson Cancer Center on a Tuesday morning knowing that things didn’t look good but with a glimmer of hope that the CA125 test was wrong.
CA125 is the blood test that Ovarian Cancer patients take to detect the presence of cancer cells in their body or to see if treatment is working. While this test is not the tell all of all things Ovarian Cancer, it is still ingrained in my mind and probably will be forever as the one thing that gave us hope or put a knot in our stomachs. Before my mom’s diagnosis, I didn’t even know this type of cancer was a thing.
My mom fought a 3 year battle with the disease. She fought hard. Very hard. It was textbook Ovarian Cancer. She never accepted that she was sick and even in her last days, when her friends in Miami would call her to check on her, she always said she was fine. We are so grateful for the care she received at MD Anderson. Not just the medical care, but also the love and compassion with which every doctor, nurse, therapist, meal delivery person and volunteer treated her with.
I never imagined how instrumental living in this city would be when we moved here 12 years ago. Initially, my husband and I were moving to Colorado and due to a last minute turn of work events, we ended up here. We had never intended to move to Houston yet 6 years after that surprise job offer, being here was THE place we needed to be. My mom was diagnosed on a Friday afternoon in Miami and by Monday afternoon she was in Houston, tests done at MDA on Tuesday and by Wednesday she was in the operating room for what ended up being an 8 hour debulking surgery. Those were the longest 8 hours of our lives. The days, months and years that followed were full of chemotherapy treatments, CT scans, blood transfusions, medical terms we can’t pronounce, hair loss, hair growth, victories and setbacks. She took a trip to Hawaii. We had one last Christmas all together in Colorado with my brother and his family. I knew in my heart that would be the last one we would spend with her. I can’t explain it. But I knew. I cried the first two hours of that drive back to Texas because I.just.knew.
Y’all. This disease took my mom. It took her, changed her and changed me in the process too. So many memories that needed to still be made and so many things left unsaid. Having been there every step of the way with her and seeing the devastation of this disease, it is my mission to make as many women as possible aware of its signs and symptoms. Early detection is KEY in improving survival rates. Ovarian Cancer is known as the “silent killer” of women sadly and your yearly Pap test doesn’t detect it either.
According to MD Anderson Cancer Center, located right here in Houston, the signs and symptoms of Ovarian Cancer are ::
- General abdominal pain or discomfort (gas, indigestion, pressure, swelling, bloating, cramps)
- Bloating and/or feeling of fullness, even after a light meal
- Nausea, diarrhea, constipation or frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal vagina bleeding
- Unusual fatigue
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Menstrual changes
Because so many of these symptoms are somewhat generic and can be attributed to other common ailments, the disease usually goes undetected until the later stages. I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to your body and advocate for yourself if these symptoms are happening more often than not! When in doubt, always go see your doctor! In hindsight, my mom had many of these symptoms and complained about them for months before finally going to see her doctor. My fellow mommas, this post is not meant to scare y’all, but it is meant to make you aware of this disease and to always pay attention to any changes in your body. I know how easy it is to focus on taking care of everyone and everything else, but overlook our own health and needs in the process.
Also, if you have a history of breast, ovarian or colon cancer in your family, it is important to check yourself for any BRCA genetic mutations that can put you at a higher risk for these diseases. Speaking with your OB/GYN or a genetic counselor is a great way to find out what steps, if any, may need to be taken to lower your risk.
As for me, even though I am not BRCA positive, having a mother with Ovarian Cancer is a big enough risk factor for me to choose to remove my ovaries in the near future. My OB/GYN and I have had many conversations about this and at some point I will decide whether to have a full hysterectomy or just remove my ovaries. This decision was made in my heart a long time ago. It doesn’t mean that I would be 100% risk free, but it would significantly lower my risk. I understand that for some people, knowing if they are BRCA positive can be very scary, but for me, knowledge is power.
Ovarian Cancer may have taken my mom, but it doesn’t have to continue taking our moms, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and friends. Here are a few websites that you can refer to for more information during this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month ::
Listen to your body. Know your risk. Be aware.