Ovarian Cancer Survivor
My name is Kendal and this is my story of being a survivor of ovarian cancer. My diagnosis came on October 13, 2000-it just happened to be a Friday-imagine that! The back-story of getting to the diagnosis actually began when I was 23-in 1989. Long story short, I had been adopted as an infant and my biological sister, Linda, sought me out…taking years to do so…in order to tell me about the extensive family history of ovarian cancer in our family. At that time several family members had already passed away from this type of cancer.
When I got the news I was at once both scared and relieved. The scared part made sense. Relieved, well…I finally had an idea as to why I might have been experiencing so many “female” troubles. I had crazy menstrual cycles, abdominal pain, bowel troubles & increased frequency of urination. Now armed with this new information I went back to the doctor’s office…over and over…surely now they would listen, pay attention, take me seriously. Sadly, this was not the case. When I shared the family medical history along with my symptoms I was told, too many times to count, that I was too young to have ovarian cancer and that ovarian cancer does not cause the type of pain I was having. They told me it was far more likely that I had ovarian cysts which could be treated with birth control pills which, they assured me, would greatly reduce the risk of ovarian cancer developing. And so it went…I figured I they knew better than me, after all, they had the medical degree. Birth control pills would be the solution…
Fast forward to September, 2000. That month I had a severe menstrual cycle and was finding myself literally doubled over in pain at work. Not able to endure much more, I made an appointment to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound and they also did a ca125 blood test. The Ultrasound results came back and showed that I had (according to their interpretation) an enlarged right ovary and an enlarged lymph node which was most likely secondary to an infected cyst, hence the enlarged ovary. The recommendation was to return in 6-8 weeks for a re-evaluation. The ca125 test came back shortly after the ultrasound results and it was out of normal range. At 185, the serum level was well above 35, which would be considered normal. Not wanting to wait another 6-8 weeks I made an appointment with a specialist, who referred me to a gynecological oncologist, just to be safe. The gynecological oncologist agreed that this was not likely ovarian cancer and that it was far more likely to be an infected ovary and possibly some endometriosis, both of which would account for the elevated ca125. This new doctor scheduled me for a “simple” procedure- a laparoscopy- to check things out.
On October 13, 2000 I was admitted into the hospital, having been told I would at most be staying one night. I was frightened; this was my first surgery, though I told myself this would be no big deal, just one night, how bad could it be? When I awoke from surgery I immediately knew something was very wrong. I had tubes coming out all over and I had an enormous bandage on my belly…I called for my boyfriend who gave me the news…it was ovarian cancer and it was bad…stage 3c. Strangely I felt relief…was I scared, you bet…I was scared out of my mind, but I also finally knew what was wrong with me and that I was not crazy. Now we could fix the problem. I completed chemotherapy February of 2001 and had a second look surgery in April of 2001, which came back clean. I have sustained a remission since 2001. Some say I am cured, though I am not sure I would go that far.
My other sister, Sharon, was diagnosed about a year after I was, stage 3c. After undergoing genetic testing we have learned that we are both positive for the BRCA 1 mutation. The bottom line is that the cancer could have been found earlier, if someone had been willing to listen. It is an unfortunate fact that the majority of cases of ovarian cancer are not found until the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries. This continues to happen each year.
More than 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year and most of them will be stage 2 or beyond. They say ovarian cancer whispers which is why we, as survivors, must not be silent. We must raise our voices, we must be heard. For our sisters, daughters, mothers, friends, aunts, cousins and for all the women we may never meet but whose lives might be saved because we are sharing our experiences.