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Karen Ingalls is a voracious writer and a powerful voice in raising awareness for ovarian cancer. I want to thank her for graciously accepting my offer to guest post here. The following post details her personal cancer journey and offers important detection information. Let’s give Karen our support with her guest post:
Karen’s experience: A personal story of ovarian cancer
I am a retired registered nurse and had very limited education about gynecological diseases and cancers. From working in hospice I only knew that ovarian cancer is the deadliest one of all gynecologic cancers.
My journey and initial diagnosis with ovarian cancer is a rather typical one. I had gained a few pounds and developed a protruding stomach, both of which were unusual for me since I had always bordered on being underweight. When my weight continued to increase, I sought help from my physician.
My gynecologist was prepared to do a routine PAP smear, which only determines the presence of cancer cells in the cervix. She could not get the speculum into my vagina and when she palpated my abdomen she felt a mass.
I was rushed to get a CT scan, which revealed a very large tumor in my left lower abdomen. Two days later I had an appointment with a gynecologic-oncology surgeon for an evaluation of my tumor which was the size of a honeydew melon.
A week later I had a hysterectomy by the gynecologic-oncology surgeon from which I learned the tumor was malignant. It is critically important that such a specialist in this field of oncology perform the surgery. They are experts and know what to look for and how to safely remove any tumors.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are subtle and common to many women so they are often ignored or attributed to something more benign. These are the most common symptoms:
- Abdominal bloating
- Pain in abdomen
- Low back pain
- Frequency of urination
- Changes in bowel habits
- Increased indigestion or change in appetite.
- Painful intercourse
- Unusual vaginal discharges
- Menstrual irregularities
Getting tests for a proper diagnosis
Most physicians do not consider the possibility of the presenting symptoms to be related to ovarian cancer. Often the woman is sent from one specialist to another, which I call the “Gilda Radner Syndrome.”
With each passing day, the cancer is growing and putting the woman at greater risk of being at a more terminal stage. Therefore, if a woman experiences any of these symptoms for two weeks, it is recommended that she see her gynecologist and insist on abdominal ultrasound and a CA125.
The only laboratory screening test currently available is a CA125 blood test, which unfortunately has a high incidence of false positives. We, women, need to be our own advocates and demand these inexpensive tests.
If the ultrasound and possibly a CT, MRI, or PET scans reveal a tumor, then again, in my opinion, the woman must see a gynecologic oncologist. Typically, the woman undergoes surgery, which is a complete hysterectomy and removal of any lymph nodes or any suspicious surrounding tissue or organs. The only way to accurately determine if cancer is present is through specimen testing of the tissue.
Ovarian cancer risk factors
The risk factors are:
- Family or self-history of breast, colon, ovarian, or prostate cancers
- Eastern Jewish heritage (Ashkenazi)
- History of infertility drugs
- Never been pregnant
- BRCA 1 & BRCA 2 positive mutation
- Long term use of Hormone Replacement Therapy
- Infertility treatment
I was staged at IIC and given a 50% chance of surviving 5 years. I had no family history of ovarian cancer and only one relative had breast cancer. I did not fit the typical criteria, and the BRCA1 and BRCA2 markers were negative for the mutation.
The word cancer creates fear in everyone either mildly or extremely. Yet so often the things we fear are never as great as the fear itself. As a young person, I had learned from my grandmother and adopted aunt that attitude, acceptance, and determination are the keys to facing fear and to healing the body, mind, and spirit.
They taught me about living a healthy lifestyle, which included a belief in God, exercise, good nutrition, positive thinking, healthy touch, and meditation. These lifestyle choices helped me live with cancer.
In my book, Outshine: An Ovarian Cancer Memoir, I wrote about my journey with ovarian cancer to educate, support, and inspire women and their families. It is my own unique experience, but there are some common emotions, events, and experiences that all cancer survivors share.
The challenge of ovarian cancer was an opportunity for me to become a better person. My life is far richer and has the greater mission, which is to spread the word about this lesser-known disease.
I truly see each moment as a gift that is not to be taken for granted but lived to its fullest with love. An important lesson I learned with the challenge of ovarian cancer is that the beauty of the soul, the real me, and the real you, outshines the effects of cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation.
About Karen Ingalls
Karen Ingalls is the author of the award-winning book, Outshine: An Ovarian Cancer Memoir a novel. She has also written Novy’s Son, and award-winning novel, Davida: Model & Mistress of Augustus Saint-Gaudens; a public speaker; and an advocate for ovarian cancer awareness. Once a week, she posts a blog about health/wellness, relationships, spirituality, and cancer. ALL PROCEEDS GO TO GYNECOLOGIC CANCER RESEARCH.