A Warrior of All Warriors

 

What woman doesn’t have one of the following symptoms at any time during a month? Bloating, feeling full quickly, constipation, frequent urination and/or fatigue. At 35 years old, I know I do. Did you know those are the same symptoms of ovarian cancer? This is the story of a warrior loved by many.

On the first diagnosis one comes out swinging after the shock wears off. With faith by your side, you are ready to take on the challenge of the unknown road ahead. You win! Your caretakers win.

The second diagnosis comes three years later. A. Slap. In. The. Face. You think “What!? I’ve endured all of this. My family has endured it. And it’s back?.” You pull up your big girl panties and do what you have to do, knowing exactly what you are in for, and praying for courage at every infusion visit. God is using you to help those just diagnosed at every turn.

Cancer free for nine months, the blood level numbers were only off by a few points, but you knew something wasn’t right. It was back; and three years later, it has never really left. Of the past 36 months, you have spent 18 of them undergoing chemo and/or radiation while working full time.

You have been fighting and surviving this active disease for eight years. Eight years. The average survival rate for a woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer is five years. You are a warrior of all warriors. You smile and spread love everywhere you go. Cancer does not define you… Your testament of faith does.

This is my best friend. My angel. My pick-me-up on a rainy day. My problem solver. My peacemaker. My hero.

My mom. A warrior.

A warrior for her husband, children, grandchildren, extended family, friends and other survivors.

IMG_0165In February of 2008, mom was headed out of town and called to chat. She mentioned she was drinking a lot of cranberry juice because she thought she might be getting a urinary tract infection (UTI) due to her frequent bathroom visits and her groin was still sore from a recent fall. A few weeks prior she slipped at work and did the splits. Upon lying down, a lump would appear on her stomach just above where one would think your left ovary lives. We all just decided she just stretched a groin muscle, nothing major to worry about, right? Certainly not cancer. As a precaution she decides to see her physician.

A few weeks later we have the ever so memorable conversation with the gynecological surgical oncologist, “as suspected, there is evidence of ovarian cancer.” What?! As suspected!? No one ever told me it was a real possibility. I began to weep (okay, that’s an understatement). As soon as I could get back to see her, which was the slowest 2 hours ever, I shared my disbelief with her and she peacefully looked at me and said “I knew.” “What do you mean, you knew?!” I said, with confusion. From there our family cancer journey began. Mom was 59. Most ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed between 55-65.

Every woman’s story is slightly different, but the same symptoms weave through their journey. Mom was “lucky” that she fell. The fall caused her the tumor to “flip” and present itself. She was diagnosed as borderline Stage 1/Stage 2, one of the best early detection scenarios a woman can experience with this disease. Ovarian cancer is rare, yes; however, 1 in 72 women will be diagnosed with it over a lifetime. She is a uniquely wonderful and hopeful lady and just so happened to develop a very rare form of ovarian cancer: carcinosarcoma. Less than one percent of ovarian cancer patients have this type of tumor.

IMG_0029The thought of losing my mom is enough to cause enormous grief or to shout about this disease. Right now, I choose to shout. To tell everyone to listen to their bodies. Go to the doctor. Ask questions.

If you have a history of ovarian or breast cancer in your family, I would recommend getting genetic testing done. These tests can help determine if you carry specific tumor markers (BRCA 1 & BRCA 2) that could increase your risk of diagnosis. UAMS offers a great genetic counseling program. Our family did and it gave us a great peace of mind.

Did you know your pap smear does not test for ovarian cancer?

Did you know there is no screening test for ovarian cancer, compared to a mammogram for breast cancer? Nothing. Nothing to help catch this long before an arduous journey begins. There are potential new tests popping up all the time. Our hope is that a screening method will come very soon.

So, what ARE the symptoms?

The most common symptoms include:

  • BLOATING
  • PELVIC OR ABDOMINAL PAIN
  • PAIN DURING INTERCOURSE
  • TROUBLE EATING OR FEELING FULL QUICKLY
  • UNEXPLAINED WEIGHT GAIN
  • URINARY SYMPTOMS SUCH AS URGENCY    (ALWAYS FEELING LIKE YOU HAVE TO GO) OR FREQUENCY (HAVING TO GO OFTEN)

If you experience these symptoms, and they persist for four or more weeks, please consult your primary care physician or gynecologist.

In 2009, two survivors (one being mom) and two caretakers (myself included) joined together to start an organization known as the Arkansas Ovarian Cancer Coalition (AROVCC) to educate the State of Arkansas on the signs and symptoms. September is national ovarian cancer month. For more information on ovarian cancer or the efforts of AROVCC, please go to www.arovcc.org or friend us on facebook. AROVCC is a volunteer only 501(c)3 nonprofit.

My mom is the strongest woman I know; with the most tenacious, yet gracious, spirit a cancer patient can have. My warrior of all warriors beats the odds every day – spiritually, mentally, and physically. I am grateful for all of our memories and can’t wait to make more with her and my family every day. I hope you have the chance to meet her and feel her love.

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