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.


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Anonymous Lynn said...

It is nice to hear people with this dease are surviving and are upbeat. One of my college roommates died of this

1:50 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

I'm sorry to hear about your college roommate Lynn. I hope I'll be able to help raise awareness because the statistics are just so scary. But the other thing too is that all the doctors seemed optimistic about what is happening in the field of research, so maybe one day the statistics will be much better. I sure hope so.

Thanks for posting.


12:59 AM  

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