September is ovarian cancer awareness month. This week’s guest post by Karen Ingalls illuminates the symptoms and how they can be confused with the signs of Menopause. She tells us how to be proactive in our own reproductive system health.
This Is Just Menopause, Right?
In the spring of 2008 I believed that my bloating stomach was because I was post-menopausal. I had started menopause in my late 40’s and even though I was now 68, I felt confident that I was gaining weight due to hormonal changes. I decided I just needed to exercise more and eat less. Every morning I faithfully did 30-45 minutes of aerobics and abdominal sit-ups. I have never had a weight problem and always ate nutritiously, so I just decreased my caloric and fat intake.
Three months later I had increased a full pant size and was beginning to see I might soon have to go up one more. I was scheduled for my annual PAP test and mammogram in a couple of weeks, and decided I would talk to my gynecologist then about what I still thought was post-menopausal symptoms. Four days prior to my appointment I started to see a change in the form of my bowel movements. I was sharing these concerns while I had my legs up in the stirrups when suddenly I was aware of unusual pain. The doctor could not get the speculum in despite a couple of attempts and maneuvers. She palpated my abdomen and felt a mass.
My bloating and bowel changes were due to a mass the size of a Honeydew sized melon sitting on my left ovary. Two weeks later I was given the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, Stage IIC; had a hysterectomy and colon resection; and then 6 rounds of chemotherapy.
The typical symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
*pelvic or abdominal bloating,
*pelvic or abdominal pain,
*difficulty eating or feeling full quickly,
*frequent need to urinate, increased fatigue,
*or painful intercourse.
Are these not symptoms that a female can experience from adolescence and into adulthood? Do not some of these occur during ovulation, days before and during menstruation, and the years of menopause? Can these also be symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Urinary Infection, Back Pain, Gallbladder Issues, and many other ailments? The answer is yes, which means ovarian cancer is often misdiagnosed.
I am grateful that I am now a 5-year survivor with no recurrence and the message I want to leave is the following:
1. Ladies, be proactive when such symptoms continue on a daily basis for 2 weeks.
2. Write on a chart or calendar, or in a diary of any body changes.
3. Know and write down your family’s health history.
4. Seek out a gynecologist for initial evaluation,
5. And then a gynecologic-oncologist if cancer might be suspected.
6. Know, listen, and respond to your body’s warning signs.
Karen Ingalls is the author of the award winning book, Outshine: An Ovarian Cancer Memoir, which provides information about this lesser known disease, and offers hope and inspiration to women and their families. Proceeds go to ovarian cancer research. She writes a weekly blog about health/wellness, relationships, spirituality, and cancer at: www.outshineovariancancer.blogspot.com.