September is nationally recognized as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – accordingly, I feel compelled to share a personal story. In 2017, I was contracted to execute a social media campaign for the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance (COCA). At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the presentation of ovarian cancer, so I methodically researched to be effective in raising awareness. I learned the symptoms of the disease are insidious, routine gynecological exams rarely detect it, and that my mother had a Stage II diagnosis.
In hindsight, I recall that the slight pain on the right side of her lower abdomen had become a reoccurring topic of conversation during our “hey girl” check-ins. She said it hurt when she walked, so we played process of elimination for months blaming her penchant for stilettos, seltzer water, and kale. And since we both have a PhD in WebMD from Google University, we made peace with our false diagnosis in hopes the discomfort would pass.
What I didn’t know at the time was that my mother was in more pain than she originally confessed. Thank God the reality she protected from her family was shared during a conversation with her co-worker – a registered nurse who immediately suspected ovarian cancer. Their discussion motivated my mother to schedule an appointment with her gynecologist of 20 years, Dr. Susan Moison, who arranged an ultrasound and a CA-125 test.
By all accounts, her story and outcome are not the norm. The same year she was diagnosed, the Journal of Ovarian Research reported that Black women are at a “survival disadvantage” when it comes to ovarian cancer. Even though progress in the treatment of OC has been made, we do not appear to be “reaping the benefits of advances.” An analysis of the data revealed, “The ovarian cancer health disparity has increased over time and one reason for this increase is the disparate access to treatment, particularly surgery” (Sinja et al., 2017).
After all that’s happened, I have a better understanding of what is meant by the phrase: knowledge is power. I remember my mother telling me that her biggest fear came true when she went to the doctor and found out that something was wrong. However, early detection is the reason she is here today. My family is grateful to share this story in hopes of helping someone else overcome the fear of seeking treatment.
By the end of 2017, the Kyser family was mentally and physically exhausted. My mother bravely approached her sixth round of chemo, and the autoimmune disease (alopecia) I struggled with in secret since adolescence accelerated from totalis to universalis. The family blamed my father’s lack of locks on the post-traumatic stress associated with raising a teenage daughter. Who knew that one day we would be bald at the same time, for different reasons, and rejoice in telling the story? A story that demonstrates the strength of family and the irony of life.
The biggest takeaway I gleaned from this scary experience that hit close to home is to trust your body. In fact, the slogan COCA adopted to spearhead their campaign implored women to “Trust Your Gut.” Annual gynecological exams do not check for ovarian cancer, so it’s very important for a woman to advocate for herself and push her doctor if something feels abnormal. I suspect the reason ovarian cancer has a reputation for being the “silent killer” among cancers is because the disease is insidious. According to COCA, 95% of women diagnosed with OC experience four common symptoms: bloating, abdominal pressure/pain, feeling full quickly when eating a meal, and urinary urgency or frequency.
Ladies, the medical community often misses diagnosing this cancer! It is recommended that any woman who experiences even one of the previously mentioned symptoms for more than two weeks, consult with their gynecologist. My mother is proof that early detection saves lives. The gentle nudge she received from a girlfriend at work, motivated her to further investigate her concerns. The tumor that was ultimately detected by her doctor had grown to be the size of a grapefruit when she learned she was Stage II.
My hope is that her story will inspire a woman who’s been on the fence about consulting with a doctor. Please learn more about the symptoms, your risks, and other facts about ovarian cancer. This month and every month, advocate for your own health! To learn more about COCA and its programs, visit www.colo-ovariancancer.org.
Journal of Ovarian Research 201710:58
Ovarian Cancer Awareness – Early Detection Saves Lives
By: Kelie Kyser, Digital Marketing Director, The Gomez Howard Group