I had never given a thought to ovarian cancer, and why would I? When it comes to gynecological cancers you hear about breast cancer all the time, uterine cancer, and cervical cancer when you go for your annual Pap smear, but you never hear much at all about ovarian cancer. I think it’s getting a little more noticed these days but several years ago I really didn’t give it a thought.
I’m sure I probably heard the words before at some point but until I was diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer I was pretty ignorant of signs and symptoms and had no idea what to look for. Not to mention I was a very healthy person – rarely even got the flu or colds – and the last thing I expected to hear from my doctor was the dreaded word, “cancer.”
As it turned out, I had probably been having early warning signs for some time, possibly years, but I attributed them all as just regular old signs of getting a little older (but not that old! I was only 43) and entering that time in life where different things start to bother you or basically fall apart, kind of like a car that is reaching the end of your warranty. You know how that goes, your warranty runs out and you’re in the repair shop every other week.
So I had been having very typical symptoms and had no idea, symptoms such as indigestion (never had that before), bloating, change in menstrual periods (heavier), and some pelvic pain shortly after my periods. The pelvic discomfort/pain. It was really a strange symptom I thought because it wasn’t right along with that time of the month but several days after. But then it would go away and I would just figure, you know, getting older, et cetera.
But then I started having this annoying leg pain. It was sort of a radiating pain, so I figured it must be something to do with a nerve. I have a little medical knowledge so I thought, could it be some sort of back issue like sciatica? No, I didn’t think so, because it didn’t follow the usual M.O. for that type of nerve pain. Instead of being alleviated by rest it was alleviated by getting up and walking. Maybe a muscle strain? How about fibroids? Yes, that was it, I decided, fibroids. I went online and researched all the symptoms and everything added up! A huge fibroid must be pressing on my sciatic nerve and causing this intolerably aggravating leg pain. I made an appointment with my gynecologist and she agreed, yes, that must be it. Whew, great, nothing that serious to worry about.
My gynecologist sent me for an ultrasound where a large mass was seen, so I was immediately sent to a gynecologic oncologist. This was extremely scary but I was reassured by hearing this is the best person for any type of GYN problems (not only cancer but anything abnormal) that are out of the norm because these doctors are very specialized. However, it is very scary to be sitting in the oncologist’s office wondering if you may have cancer. You look around the waiting room and see all the obvious chemotherapy patients, and it’s quite overwhelming.
As soon as I had my exam, my doctor scheduled surgery, and soon! My surgery was done six days later and the diagnoses was stage 2 ovarian cancer.
I was then scheduled to begin chemotherapy. I did not want to hear this! All I could think of was losing my hair. In the grand scheme of things this is such a small thing, but believe me, when you are faced this it just seems so awful and dreadful.
But there was good news hidden inside all of the bad, and that was that I only had stage 2 ovarian cancer and not a later stage which is most often diagnosed (due to the fact that no one realizes they are having any symptoms to be worried about). It is only a very very tiny percentage of diagnoses that are made at stage 1 or 2. The majority of all ovarian cancer diagnoses are made at stage 3 or 4. These later stages are a lot different in terms of prognosis (but not hopeless! there is always hope).
I am happy to say I made it through it all and am now cancer free. I do believe though that if I had not had the leg pain I would not have gone to the doctor anytime soon, probably not for quite some time (I really dislike going to the doctor and always put it off), as my symptoms were just so nonspecific and seemingly very benign, and my disease may have gone unnoticed and kept growing to stage III or IV.
So please heed your body’s communication with you and if you have anything going on that seems really out of the ordinary for you, even if it is ordinary for others, any early warning signs whatsoever, have it checked out by a doctor. It could make a huge difference in your ultimate diagnosis.