Monday, 16 September 2013

My Ovarian Cancer Journey

Ovarian Cancer has been described as "the disease that whispers".  Looking back I heard the whispers, but I did not know what they meant. The summer of 2007 I noticed that I had a small "pot" that was hard, but I did not do anything about it. I thought that I would mention it when I had my physical in the fall. Others had noticed my "pot", but at the time had only thought I had gained some weight. While we were at a cottage, I started to experience indigestion and bloating. I went to my family doctor when I returned home. She had initially thought that I might have a blocked intestine so she put me on stool softeners and a laxative; and she arranged for me to see a bowel specialist.
I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable as my abdomen increased in size. My husband took me to Emergency. The attending doctor was uninformed about Ovarian Cancer so he suggested that maybe I was pregnant and did not know it. When it was discovered that I had had ultrasounds earlier in the week, the staff were able to obtain the results, which recommended that I have a CAT scan.

On the following Monday my husband and I drove to Orillia. The bowel specialist told us that after looking at my ultrasounds I did not need his care as it was not a blocked intestine. We shared about our experience at Southlake and the recommendation for me to get a CAT scan. The doctor informed us that he was chief of staff at the Orillia hospital and he would personally arrange for me to have a CAT scan that day. He said he would also arrange to have the results immediately so he could personally direct us to the correct specialist. Finally we were getting somewhere!

My doctor obtained the written results the next day, and we met with her the following day to discuss the findings. By this time I was very uncomfortable and I was having trouble breathing. My husband insisted that something be done for me. My doctor arranged for me to go to Emergency at Southlake and the chief internist would examine me there. The specialist examined me and told me that they were going to admit me until they not only discovered what was causing this, but also began the appropriate treatment.

Several days later, I was visited by a nursing assistant from the oncology department and informed that I did have a tumour on my ovary. She talked in general terms and I did not expect that it would be serious. I thought that it might be only Stage I Ovarian Cancer. I asked her for information regarding Ovarian Cancer since I had never heard of it before that day.

Later that evening the oncologist came and informed me that I had Stage III Ovarian Cancer and that I would need to have my ovaries removed as well as a hysterectomy. She told me that I needed chemotherapy and that I would lose my hair. My husband and I met with the surgeon on a Wednesday, two weeks after I was first admitted to Southlake, and I began chemotherapy the next day as an inpatient. I was then released from the hospital the following day and I had the remainder of my chemo as an outpatient.

When I had Ovarian Cancer and was undergoing treatment I felt as though I was a "prisoner" in my own body. I had no real control over my body or my life at that time. The cancer caused my body to react by producing fluid (ascites) in my abdomen, which I needed to have drained on several occasions. It was rather scary the first time, but I wanted relief. I also had lost a lot of weight - probably between 25 and 30 pounds. Many times right after receiving chemo I did not feel like eating for the first few days, or I was too nauseous to keep anything down. I was trying to regain weight in order to build up my strength to cope with the chemo treatments. These were times I would not want to repeat.

I had another CA125 blood test that showed a significant decrease in the levels after two rounds of chemo. The numbers went from 4095 down to 278; the normal range is 0-35. I knew that the cancer was not spreading, but was being destroyed! After my third round of chemo my CA125 was 58. I had a total of four rounds of chemo and then I had my surgery five weeks later followed by two more rounds of chemo.

When I was taken to the operating room my husband went to wait in the designated waiting room. There was a screen that displayed the patients' names, operating room numbers, starting time of surgery and when surgery finished. After an hour and a quarter my operation stated "closed", which meant that the operation was over. My husband asked the volunteer about that and she said it must be a mistake, but fifteen minutes later the surgeon appeared and called Dan's name. He met with the surgeon in a small room. The surgeon said "This was quite astounding; we were not able to find any cancer." My husband replied that there have been "hundreds of people praying” for me; to which the surgeon said "I think it was the chemo". One of the doctors present during surgery visited me and Dan asked her more details. She said that they didn't see any tumour on the ovary and they didn’t have to take any lymph nodes or do anything to other organs. The
pathology report did show cancer cells on the inside of the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

My CA 125 level after my fifth chemo treatment was 12 and after I had a sixth chemo treatment it was 8. I had follow-up appointments with my oncologist every 3 months for the first year after finishing my chemotherapy. The second year I saw the oncologist every 6 months and each time my CA125 was either 7 or 8, which is well within the normal range of 0-35. My third year follow-up appointment was a year later. The fourth year before my annual appointment I had CT scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvis to establish a baseline. The results were all clear and my blood tests also came back normal. I had my final fifth year annual appointment in April 2013. As you can imagine I am happy and relieved to be healthy.

 I want to share the possible symptoms of Ovarian Cancer which are:
- Swelling or bloating of the abdomen
- Back or abdominal pain
- Excessive fatigue
- Gas, nausea, indigestion
If any of these symptoms persist for more than 2 to 3 weeks, see your Physician and be persistent in obtaining tests if these symptoms don't go away. As you can realize, these symptoms are very vague; almost every woman has had one or all of them, and that it is why it is called the Whispering Disease.

If you would like more information about Ovarian Cancer please go to this website:

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