"The Black Widow' Keeps Her Head Up While Living with Cancer
- The former top pool player in the world, Jeanette Lee, 50, announced that she was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer early last year.
- In a recent Facebook update, Lee shared an update on health and told fans about a recent emergency back surgery she had to have after she fell inside a motor home on a trip to New York. Even still, her spirits have been high and she said she wanted to be back playing pool soon.
- Ovarian cancer is called the cancer that whispers because its symptoms can be very vague. People should remain vigilant and aware of any new or unusual symptoms and report to their physicians for appropriate evaluation.
Lee, the former top pool player in the world, announced she was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer early last year. But the single 50-year-old mother has said she would do whatever she could to fight the disease for her three children in their teens and younger.Read More
In October 2021, she even returned to competitive play for the first time since revealing her cancer battle saying she was “HAVING SO MUCH FUN” despite negative side effects like chronic pain, nausea and fatigue from chemotherapy treatments.
So, despite her ongoing battle with the disease, Lee is determined to hold onto hope.
“Just look up, look forward to the day, look forward to tomorrow and see what you can make of it,” she said in a recent Facebook live video. “And just don’t spend it in bed, even if you feel like it.
“I find myself in and out of depression but there is also this side to me that’s like, ‘No, I plan to live a long time… I just can’t let the setbacks in my life defeat me. I’m just going to stay positive.”
‘The Black Widow’ often tries to focus on the positives in her life like her “beautiful children,” but she’s admitted that the challenge she’s facing is an uphill battle.
“Stage 4 ovarian cancer, the odds are not great,” Lee said. “But I feel like if I went by the odds of me becoming No. 1, I never would have become a world champion.
“You’ve just got to go for it, and I want to enjoy my life… I want to do the best I can with what I have, and I want to feel blessed, and that’s the way that I feel. I mean, it’s not been easy.”
And most recently, Lee has had to deal with another health issue that threw her for a loop. She was traveling to New York in a motor home to visit family and friends when she walked over to the driver to tell them something. As she was standing, a car veered into their lane, and the driver was forced to slam of their brakes sending Lee flying.
“I fell headfirst down the stairwell, the steep stairwell of this big motor home,” she said. “Anyway, it got pretty rough.”
Lee was rushed to the emergency room, but scans and MRIs ruled out anything serious. But when she eventually arrived at friend’s house in New York, Lee knew something was wrong because she was having trouble talking/thinking, she was fatigued, she was in pain and she felt really clumsy.
“I was dropping things all the time, dropping a fork, dropping a cup, dropping a pen, a cane,” she said. “Whatever I tried to put in my hand, I could not hold on to it.”
She went back to the ER where she discovered the cause: severe spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. She then had emergency back surgery, but was in good enough spirits just ten days later to give fans the Facebook update on her health.
“I’m so thankful for having an incredible family and friends, support system that have been out there,” she said. “And all my fans out there who have also been sending prayers — all that matters.”
Lee also shared she hoped to be playing pool again very soon.
“You just can’t focus on the negative,” she said.
Understanding Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is when the ovaries – which produce the sex hormone, estrogen, as well as eggs – become cancerous. Women have two ovaries, one on either side of the uterus.
The fallopian tube, which brings the egg from the ovary to the uterus for fertilization, is actually where many ovarian cancers begin. First, a few cancerous cells develop on the fallopian tubes, then these cells stick to the ovaries as the fallopian tubes brush over the ovary. From there, the cancerous cells grow to form a tumor.
Your risk for ovarian cancer may be increased if you have gone through menopause, have a gene mutation like BRCA1 or BRCA2, are obese or overweight, had your first pregnancy after age 35 or never carried a pregnancy to full-term, have a family history of cancer or used hormone replacement therapy. You should talk with your doctor about your potential risk for the disease.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer is known as the cancer that whispers because symptoms are vague and sometimes similar to regular menstrual cycle fluctuations. Dr. Beth Karlan, a gynecologic oncologist with UCLA Health, says that ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognize with its subtle symptoms.
“Ovarian cancer does not have any specific symptoms,” Karlan said in an earlier interview with SurvivorNet. “It’s often referred to as the cancer that whispers in that it has symptoms that are really very vague… and nothing that may bring your attention directly to the ovaries.”
But Dr. Karlan still wants women to keep an eye out for a variety of possible symptoms.
“The symptoms include things like feeling full earlier than you usually would when your appetite is strong… Feeling bloated,” she added. “Some changes in your bowel habits. Some pain in the pelvis. These are symptoms women may have every month. These are not very specific. But what we’ve found from multiple studies, it’s this constellation of symptoms.”
Dr. Stephanie Wethington, director of the gynecologic oncology survivorship program at Johns Hopkins Medicine, previously told SurvivorNet that prevention for ovarian cancer is an important area of focus.
“We must remember that prevention is key and advocate for all women to discuss their family history and individual risk factors with their doctors and ask whether there are risk-reducing options available to them,” Dr. Wethington wrote.
Our advice to readers: See your doctor if you feel like something is off. Given that ovarian cancer can have no symptoms or a myriad of symptoms that you might easily brush off as nothing, it’s important to always seek medical attention when your gut is telling you something might be wrong. That doesn’t mean we should assume the worst every time we feel bloated or have a change in appetite, but it does mean that we should always try to listen to the signs our body is giving us.
Living with Cancer
Life doesn’t slow down for a cancer diagnosis, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Like we’ve seen in the case of Lee, it’s important to remember that a cancer diagnosis – even stage four – does not mean the end of your life. In fact, our experts say that prioritizing your overall wellbeing and continuing to do the things that you love can be very beneficial.
Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard, a thoracic oncologist, shared three things he tells his lung cancer patients about living with the disease:
- Don’t act sick – “You can’t mope around,” he said. “Do things, and in doing things, you will stay active.”
- Don’t lose weight – “Eat what you need to do to not lose weight,” he said. “I like my patients pleasantly plump.”
- Don’t be a tough guy – “When you’ve got lung cancer, you need work with your doctor to keep your medical conditions under control.”