Ovarian Cancer: When body talks, you need to listen
CUTLINE: Six years after receiving the diagnosis of Stage IV ovarian cancer, Ossian resident Marilyn Green and her husband Bill, continue to live with ongoing treatments at Mayo Health Systems in Rochester, Minn. She has taken the opportunity to inform other women about the cancer known as the silent killer. (submitted photo)
When body talks, you need to listen
Fatigue, pelvic or abdominal discomfort, and nausea can mimic the symptoms for many different diseases, but they can also indicate ovarian cancer, the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women each year. Ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer.
For Ossian resident Marilyn Green, living with ovarian cancer has also become a opportunity to inform other women about the subtle disease because there are no known diagnostic tests used in physical exams for early detection at this time.
Most ovarian cancers are diagnosed in advanced stages because of the subtle symptoms women experience, and Marilyn’s was no different as doctors told her she had Stage IV.
It was November 2007 when the South Winn elementary school teacher had difficulty eating and experienced unusual fatigue.
“I figured I was tired, but I got up at 5 every morning and walked, then taught elementary students. Who’s not going to be tired?” asked the former teacher.
The mother of two and grandmother of four, had already kicked Stage I breast cancer in 2006, but wasn’t prepared for what she would live with the rest of her life.
The year prior, Marilyn had undergone a lumpectomy and radiation. She said the breast cancer had been a walk in the park compared to living with ovarian cancer.
Diagnosed earlier in 2007 with a hernia near her belly button, Marilyn didn’t think much of it until November when she got sick and thought she had the flu.
“I couldn’t eat without getting nauseated, so I finally went to the doctor. They did a scan, and I went back for the results the next day,” explained Green.
There was no way she was prepared to hear the words, “Marilyn, you have a tumor, and it’s ovarian cancer.”
“I was totally blown out of the water,” recalled the retired South Winn elementary teacher. “It really is hard because you are in shock by the fact that this has happened. Then you realize that your entire life and exactly how you thought the next how many years of your life was going to go, it completely changes in seconds.”
Marilyn noted that since she didn’t have a family history of ovarian cancer, the news took her completely by surprise.
Immediately she was encouraged to seek treatment at Mayo Health Systems in Rochester, either by ambulance or private vehicle, so Marilyn called her husband, Bill, and broke the news.
Two weeks after learning of the ovarian cancer, Marilyn went into surgery to have a procedure called “debulking” completed. Debulking is the act of surgeons removing as much of the tumor/cancer cells as they can see with the naked eye.
While in surgery doctors found that the tumor had attached itself to both the intestines and pancreas thus requiring extended surgery.
Marilyn remained in the hospital for nearly a month before returning home, and as soon as she was strong enough, oncology doctors began a strong chemotherapy regimen.
At the doctor’s suggestion, the Green family has undergone genetic testing and found that Marilyn’s paternal side is a carrier for a mutated gene that causes the disease. She, in fact, carries two genes for it while her siblings carry one and her children, Tim and Beth, carry another.
“Fortunately, through genetic testing I have been able to help my family,” acknowledged Marilyn.
“I have heard that one of the keys to cancer survival is having a really good cancer surgeon, and I feel I was fortunate and blessed because I had a very experienced oncology surgeon,” said Marilyn.
“We are also blessed to have strong support systems in our community. I have an excellent husband, family, friends, and faith. One cannot imagine what it takes when you cannot do things for yourself,” Marilyn stated. “Bill has helped me so much and has literally saved my life.”
Now nearly six years after diagnosis, the Ossian woman continues to live with ovarian cancer, and the tumors still exist. She makes regular trips to Mayo Clinic for chemotherapy and is currently receiving her seventh different type of chemo regimen.
According to her research, Marilyn said the best preventative measures for ovarian cancer include having children, multiple births, birth control, breastfeeding, exercise and eating right.
“So what part of that didn’t I do?” questioned Green.
Other preventative measures, especially for women who have the gene mutation, which causes breast and ovarian cancer, is a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.
“It is all doctors know to do right now,” stated Marilyn. “People may think it’s radical, but if they would see a loved one go through this to survive, they may choose the same path.”
Marilyn noted that most ovarian cancer cases are not hereditary, but that over 22,000 women will be diagnosed with it and it cause approximately 14,000 deaths in women this year.
“Women may even have to suggest ovarian cancer to the doctors because it can fly under their radar, too,” encouraged Marilyn. “You have to be persistent and listen to what your body is telling you.”
Ovarian Cancer Symptions:
• Pelvic or abdominal pain or discomfort;
• Vague but persistent gastrointestinal upsets such as gas, nausea, and indigestion.
• Frequency and/or urgency of urination in the absence of an infection.
• Unexplained weight gain or weight loss.
• Pelvic and/or abdominal swelling, bloating, and/or feeling of fullness.
• Ongoing unusual fatigue.
• Unexplained changes in bowel habits.
If symptoms persist for more than two weeks, ask you doctor for a combination pelvic/rectal exam, CA-125 blood test, and transvaginal ultrasound.
• Genetic predisposition.
• Personal or family history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer.
• Increasing age.
• Undesired infertility.