by Serena T. Wills
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. One month is not enough time to make people aware of this deadly and rapid cancer. If my mother and I had known the symptoms and facts sooner about ovarian cancer, I believe she would be alive today. My mother was 60 years old and we were planning a vacation for my 35th birthday and to celebrate her 60th. What started out as making vacation plans turned into us making appointments for cancer treatments, final arrangements and what to do when she dies. It happened so fast between her diagnosis in August of 2009 to the time of her death, six months later in February.
I’m using my voice and passion for writing to make more people aware about ovarian cancer through my poetry book, Crying Tears of Teal. I wrote this book mainly at my mother’s bedside. Several years after her death, it has come into fruition as a book of poetry.
Written from the caregiver’s perspective, I talk about her journey as well as others who battled this cancer—and even those who survived it. A caregiver’s job is never done and there are poems in my book that express those feelings titled, “Sound of Your Voice and Sweet Dreams.” I was blessed to meet survivors along the way through the Life with Cancer Center in Fairfax, which is where I got the ideas of the poems titled, “Regaining Momentum”, “Living Life 155%” and “Survivor”. This book will make you think, cry, meditate, empathize, have compassion and take strides in your own health.
Many women don’t know the facts about ovarian cancer. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, it is a cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found inside, near, or on the outer layer of the ovaries. American Cancer Society states that one in 75 women will be diagnosed in their lifetimes.
Unfortunately, this cancer is often caught in stages three and four, as there is no accurate testing yet for it. There are some steps you can take to catch it early. They are:
- Getting an annual exam with your GYN or physician
- A pelvic exam
- Transvaginal sonogram (more women are being proactive and asking their insurance companies to cover the sonogram, regardless of being high-risk or not)
- CA 125 blood test which detects the protein produced by ovarian cancer cells
The symptoms are vague and they mimic menopause, menstruation cycles and digestive issues. My mother thought that her symptoms were due to menopause. She experienced bloating, fatigue, pelvic and slight abdominal pain and stomach aches. She would eat half a bowl of soup before feeling full, and always had to urinate. For a couple of years, she complained about back pain and right before her diagnosis she was always constipated. If you are still menstruating, you can also see changes and sex could be painful.
This cancer affects women ages 35 to 74, and according to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed this year. More than 14,240 women will die from ovarian cancer this year.
Women can take steps to be proactive, such as eating a healthy diet—being careful of foods that cause inflammation. A consult a physician, nutritionist or health coach to help develop a plan. Most importantly, women need to make their own health a priority, as often women will put others before themselves.