"If only I had known." A common phrase we all think or say on a fairly regular basis. I have one huge "if only I had known." I don't like to think about it everyday, it would make me miserable and you should not live your life with regrets or wishing you had had the benefit of hindsight. However, my "if only I had known" is a driving force behind this Teal and Toe Walk. Have you guessed it yet? It is, of course "if only I had known the symptoms of ovarian cancer." There I said it. I shall not dwell on it but use it as a positive force to educate others and just maybe help save a life.
I was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer on July 15th, 2010. Prior to that diagnosis I had suffered with symptoms of a bloated abdomen, indigestion, and back ache for months. Yes, months. I did not suspect in the slightest that these symptoms could mean something as serious as cancer. I did not feel ill, just uncomfortable and put it down to menopause and middle age spread (I was 48 at the time). The turning point that drove me to the Ob-Gyn was finding I could not bend over to tie my shoe laces (my abdomen was so bloated and hard but not in a good way) and I knew I wasn't pregnant! I finally managed to tie my laces but whilst walking I struggled to catch my breath. For those of you that know me, you will understand that this is very unusual. I walk a lot.
A visit to the Ob-Gyn revealed that yes I was going through menopause (really?) that I did have slightly swollen ovaries and because of my symptoms I should have a vaginal ultrasound. The next day I received a call from the office of the Ob-Gyn stating that I had unusally high protein levels, so I should make an appointment with a Gastroenterologist and would not need the untrasound. (Dare I say it "if only....")
So a week later I found myself sitting infront of a Gastroenterologist explaining my symptoms of a bloated abdomen, indigestion, and back ache. He suggested I could have I.B.S., a gluten allergy, or gall stones. I went through a month of tests, pelvic and abdominal scans and ultrasounds. Everything came back negative. Yet I still had these symptoms. What could it be?
I finally received a call (the Friday before July 4th weekend holiday) from the office of the Gastroenterologist. Actually it was a voicemail stating that the CAT scan revealed a mass by my pancreas and I would need to go in for a biopsy. Not a voicemail I was happy to listen to and I cannot begin to explain how worried I was that long weekend. I think I might have drank a little too much and not because of the 4th of July celebrations!
The following Tuesday I presented myself at the hospital for a biopsy. On returning home the phone was ringing, I answered to be told that my Gastroenterologist had happened to bump into the Oncologist and discussed my case with her. She had told him I needed to go straight back to the hospital and have a Ca125 blood test taken. So that is why I found myself sitting before an Oncologist on July 15th, 2010 being informed my Ca125 number was 3,500 (normal range is 0-35) and that I had stage 3C ovarian cancer.
What followed was a blur - the very next day I started chemotherapy. Three months later I had a very successful operation followed by 10 months of chemotherapy, the last being in September 2011. Unfortunately in November my Ca125 started to elevate, and in December I was diagnosed with a recurrance. Another successful surgery followed in January 2012 and then more chemotherapy. I am currently undergoing treatment but am happy to report my Ca125 number is now 29 and "normal". I always hoped Daren would think of me as special but now "normal" is the sweetest word to my ears and how ecstatic I am to be 29 again!
I began my story with the words "if only I had known." Seriously, if only I had known the symptoms of ovarian cancer I would have taken myself off to the Doctor so much earlier than I did, and would have been able to advocate for my own health. If only the health professionals I came in contact with had known the symptoms I would have been diagnosed so much sooner. My mission now is to educate and spread the word to as many people as possible (and not just women) about the symptoms of this dreadful disease. Thankfully this journey has lead me to two lovely ladies, Joan and her twin sister Jean, co-founders of O&BCA. I am so happy to be involved with this charity and feel lucky to be part of a program run by O&BCA called Survivors Educating Students. Telling my story to student nurse practitioners is a vital part of my healing process and a great weapon to combat the "if only I had known the symptoms of ovarian cancer" demon.
As a two year, two times ovarian cancer survivor I invite you to join me on the First Annual Teal and Toe Walk and help raise awareness for a somewhat overlooked cancer. Please support Joan and her wonderful charity. A big hug and a huge thank you!