Learning about Ovarian Cancer
- Kim Emory was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after weeks of struggling with pain. Now, she’s an advocate and educator encouraging others to know the signs of the disease and advocate for their health.
- 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.
- Being your own advocate can be key to getting a correct cancer diagnosis and obtaining the best treatment possible while dealing with a diagnosis.
Emory, the board president of Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance and an advocate for GSK, Our Way Forward, is sharing her ovarian cancer story in honor of ovarian cancer awareness month. She was diagnosed with the disease in March 2006 after countless tests and doctor visits. Despite so many trips to see medical professionals, the cause of her pain remained unknown for weeks. One doctor even suggested that her pain was in her head and she needed to visit a psychiatrist.Read More
But when she went to a Lunch & Learn event by the Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance, Emory started to get closer to a correct diagnosis.
“I took one of their risk and symptom cards, and I was able to check off all of those symptoms,” she said.
It wasn’t until after that event that Emory was finally diagnosed with stage two ovarian cancer. For treatment, she underwent chemotherapy. Now a cancer-free advocate, Emory has been working tirelessly to educate women about ovarian cancer and the importance of advocating for their health.
“I didn’t want another woman to be, quote unquote, as ignorant as I was about this particular disease,” she said. “If you don’t get an answer from one doctor, seek out a second opinion. If you are consistently getting ill, you should seek a second opinion.
“Be your own advocate. You are your best advocate.”
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.
Advocating for Your Health
Whether you are currently battling cancer or worried that you might have it, it’s always important to advocate for your health. Cancer is an incredibly serious disease, and you have every right to insist that your doctors investigate any possible signs of cancer.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murrell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period. Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you actually have cancer based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way to ensure you’re getting the care and attention you need.
Another thing to remember is that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes it’s essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.