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.
Her book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and her own website: Outshine. Follow Karen on Facebook.
my sister just went through this exact same procedure and she too is doing okay, except she has
bowel movement problems still, do you have any advise for her?
Hi Ote, I ‘ve sent your question on to Karen to see what advice she has. (Have fun on the Lodore.)
In response to your question, Ote, if your sister is having constipation (as I still do) my doctor suggests taking Metamucil every day and if necessary supplement the Metamucil with Senna-S. However, if there is any bleeding or physical change (mucus, stools black or tarry, etc) or if the case is diarrhea then she should be seen by the doctor right away.
I wish her the best. Karen
This is really helpful information to have. Amazing that one could miss a mass that size, but that could happen to any of us.
I am glad the information is helpful. I was so convinced that my symptoms were post-menopausal I never thought of a possible tumor. And, I didn’t palpate my lower abdomen…I sure do now!
Thank you for your comment, Cynthia.
The earlier cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of its being cured. Some types of cancer — such as those of the skin, breast, mouth, testicles, prostate, and rectum — may be detected by routine self-exam or other screening measures before the symptoms become serious. Most cases of cancer are detected and diagnosed after a tumor can be felt or when other symptoms develop. In a few cases, cancer is diagnosed incidentally as a result of evaluating or treating other medical conditions.
Earliest detection is so important for most cancers. One of the great challenges of ovarian cancer is that the symptoms are often very vague and mimic such benign health issues as back pain, “normal constipation,” indigestion, colitis, or menopause. Most experts advocate for the woman to keep a written diary or calendar of any symptoms, what actions affected or didn’t affect the symptoms, and if the symptoms persist for 2 weeks seek medical opinion from a gynecologist. Take a written family medical history to gynecologist; insist on a pelvic and rectal exam; and possibly get an abdominal ultrasound and CA125.