Ovarian Cancer ... Our Family's Story
Added: Sun. Sep 14, 2008 12:24pm
Posted in: Cancer
If you've planned a wedding, you know how stressful it can be. Who's sitting where? What do you mean hydrangeas are out of season? And a photographer costs HOW much?
Two-and-a-half years ago, I was in the throes of dealing with those very issues, which at the time seemed so huge, when our family was dealt a real issue. After spending two months planning and executing the perfect bridal shower for me, my future mother-in-law just wasn't feeling herself. She was chronically exhausted, her stomach felt bloated and all of the sudden she had going-to-the-bathroom issues.
We all put it off to the stress of the wedding and the shower (she tended to stress out ... A LOT!) but she just wasn't getting better. A trip to the family doctor didn't do much to help. He thought maybe she had developed irritable bowel syndrome or something similar. But the problems not only wouldn't go away, they became worse. Fast forward one month, and my fiance, his father and me were at the hospital awaiting the results of her hysterectomy. The diagnosis? Advanced ovarian cancer. She was just 66 years old.
I always considered myself lucky because not only could I tolerate my future mother-in-law, I truly loved and respected her and best of all, enjoyed being with her. But over the next 18 months, I came to admire her more than anyone else I've ever known in my life. The courage, grace and dignity she showed in facing an unwinnable battle will stay with me forever.
And the sad fact is that this year alone, 15,000 other families will have to go through the pain and tragedy our family experienced because that's how many women will die of ovarian cancer.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month so here are some facts to make you "aware." Ovarian cancer is often called the "silent killer" because it sort of sneaks up on you. Those symptoms my mother-in-law experienced, I now know, are the calling cards of this deadly disease. Common symptoms are bloating; pelvic or abdominal pain; trouble eating or feeling full quickly; and urinary symptoms, such as an urgency to go, according to the American Cancer Society. Women may also feel fatigue, upset stomach, back pain, pain during sex, constipation and menstrual changes.
The scary thing is, how many of us have felt one or all of those things at some point? The key, experts say, is that when these symptoms are caused by ovarian cancer they tend to be persistent and represent a change from normal. And if you ladies are anything like me, we tend to put these things off -- the kids are sick, the dog's sick, your husband is refusing to get that annual turn-your-head-and-cough test. My in-laws, Elizabeth "Betsy" Carlin and Jim Carlin (bottom row) with new friends on a trans-Atlantic cruise in Nov. 2006.
But I hope that you'll remember the story of Elizabeth Carlin, my beloved mother-in-law, and not put yourself second. She lived long enough to see us get married (although she was too ill to attend the wedding). She lived long enough to take one last cross-Atlantic cruise with her husband of 32 years. She lived long enough to know that her first grandchild was on the way. She did not live long enough to meet her namesake, my 7-month-old daughter, Elizabeth.
Please, see your gynecologist. Get tested yearly.
When ovarian cancer is caught early, when it is still confined to the ovaries, more than 90 percent of women will live at least five years. But only 20 percent of cases are detected that early. If cancer is detected after that, only about 30 percent of women will survive five years, the American Cancer Society says.
But most of all, don't ignore your instincts and be your own best health advocate. Don't take no for an answer if your doctor says, "You're fine. It's just a change your body is going through."
There's a wealth of information out there to arm yourself with the facts. Here are a couple of sites that came in handy for us: