Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Helping to Save Women's Lives

The statistics for ovarian cancer can be scary for a woman. According to the American Cancer Society's (ACS) website, only 20% of ovarian cancers are found in the early stages when they are most treatable. ACS suggests getting regular pelvic examinations and going to see your physician if you experience any early symptoms. But as we already know these symptoms are vague and can be caused by less serious conditions.

So how do we fight against a disease where over 75% of cases are found in the advanced stages where the cancer has spread outside of the ovaries and the five-year survival rate is 50% or less? By increasing awareness and educating women about early symptoms and risk factors.

"Johanna's Law seeks to end the life-threatening information gap that has led to so much suffering and so many deaths. By educating America’s women about gynecologic cancer symptoms and risk factors, Johanna’s Law can help women experiencing symptoms seek appropriate medical help quickly, increasing the potential for earlier detection. Women possessing risk factors can take steps to lower their risk. By also devoting resources to educating physicians, Johanna’s Law will enhance the limited exposure to gynecologic cancer patients most physicians receive during their training, making it more likely gynecologic cancers will be considered as possible causes of certain symptoms, along with the less lethal conditions so often assumed to cause them."

Drafted by Sheryl Silver after her only sister, Johanna Silver Gordon died of ovarian cancer, The Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act: Johanna's Law has garnered support in both the U.S. House and Senate and is endorsed by organizations which represent over 300,000 physicians, nurses, cancer survivors and women. But Johanna's Law needs your help.

All disease specific bills are being held up in the House. Johanna's Law must be brought before the Energy and Commerce Committee before it can be voted on. If you live in Texas please consider calling, writing, emailing, or faxing Representative Joe Barton who heads up this Committee. Here is his website - http://joebarton.house.gov/

The companion bill in the Senate could make it to the end of the year without a hearing. Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming holds the key. Constituents in his area are encouraged to call, email, write or fax his office asking for him to move this bill forward. His website is - http://enzi.senate.gov/public/

Education and awareness is the only way to change the grim statistics which surround the early diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Until a reliable screening test is made available to the general public we can only fight this disease with knowledge; knowledge of its symptoms, its risk factors and of our bodies.

For more information on The Gynecologic Education and Awareness Act: Johanna's Law please go to http://johannaslaw.org/

Thank you for your support and remember, knowledge is power.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, June 02, 2006

A Life Changing Experience

Sometimes the most meaningful lessons in life are those you stumble across by accident. I had the opportunity to attend an ovarian cancer conference on May 20. There were about a hundred people in attendance, which included many survivors. We got to listen to doctors talk about the newest treatments available, the role of surgery in preventing and treating ovarian cancer, and the advantages and disadvantages of clinical trials.

Now I've always been a cup is half empty kind of person. If something bad can happen I assume it will, and if it does I mope over it. And maybe I had a preconceived notiton that these women who have been affected by ovarian cancer, a disease whose survival rates are significantly lower in women diagnosed in the advanced stages - when over 75% of ovarian cancers are found - would feel the same way about their lot in life. Man was I wrong!

This community of survivors was the most upbeat, uplifting, positive-minded group of women I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Some of them sat down with me to share their stories. They spoke not only of their diagnosis and treaments, but of the overwhelming level of support they received from family, friends, support groups, and their faith in God. We found some of the women experienced the same vague symptoms which prompted them to seek the advice of a doctor, but in each instance the woman was totally shocked by her diagnosis. All of the women who pulled up a chair to chat with me said they were in perfect health before being told they had ovarian cancer.

I have agreed to lend my talents to spreading information about the risk factors and potential ovarian cancer symptoms that women should know about. The following list comes from the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition(NOCC).

Risk Factors
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Personal or family history of breast, ovarian or colon cancers
  • Increasing age
  • Undesired infertility

Potential Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Vague, but persistent gastrointestinal upsets such as gas, nausea, and indigestion
  • Frequency and/or urgency of urination in absence of an infection
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Pelvic and/or abdominal swelling, bloating and/or feeling of fullness
  • Ongoing unusual fatigue
  • Unexplained changes in bowel habits

The fact remains that this disease - once called "The Silent Killer"- does have symptoms which can be extremely vague, yet increase over time. Early detection increases a woman's chance of survival.

If you would like further information about ovarian cancer please check out the NOCC website at

So what did I learn from the conference? That day reminded me once again how wonderful my life is. As I sit at my computer typing this entry, my youngest daughter is busy playing in the background. At around noontime I will go pick up our other daughter from preschool and we will come back home to have a leisurely lunch, then play together for the rest of the day. My time isn't filled with trips to the hospital, blood tests or chemotherapy treatments. I'm not afraid of waking up to find a clump of hair on my pillow and I don't think about whether or not I'll be here tomorrow. Of course if any of these women at the conference thought about those things, I never knew it. They chatted with me as if we had been best friends for ages, telling me about their journeys and talking optimistically about the future.

The experience changed me in ways I'm not even sure I know about yet. All I know is I am a better person for meeting these women and I hope I can be of some help to them.


Labels: ,