In mid-June, a good friend of mine started to experience abdominal pain, bloating and abnormal menstrual cycles. Since she is 56 years old, she thought she was finally going to enter menopause and waited it out for a few weeks. However, the pain kept increasing so she went to a doctor for a checkup. She was shocked to find out that she had a large tumor in her abdominal cavity, as well as a lot of fluid. She was referred to a gynecological oncologist who was confident this was ovarian cancer and she was scheduled for major surgery on July 27. She had a complete hysterectomy, as well as the removal of her diseased omentum, as well as scraping cancer off her diaphragm and other organs. She was grateful to not have to have any bowel resection.
It was a brutal surgery with a brutal eight-day hospital stay. Pathology revealed it was advanced ovarian cancer, staged at high grade Stage 3C. The doctor said there wasn't really any difference in treatment for Stage 3C or Stage 4 (the next and last stage).
I've been fortunate to be able to attend many of the appointments my friend has had with her medical team. I am able to be a liaison of sorts as I'm familiar with most of the terminology; although, there's definitely things I don't know, especially in relation to ovarian cancer!
On Friday, my friend went to have her port surgery, in what was supposed to be a quick in/out procedure. However, it was discovered that she had fluid buildup in her chest cavity (a liter had to be drained) and she ended up spending yet another night in a hospital. To say she was furious and upset is an understatement. This fluid can mean that she's Stage IV, but since it's impossible to tell if it's a result of damage to the diaphragm or if it's metastatic to the chest cavity, she simply presses on to the next step, chemotherapy.
She did ask her doctor about her prognosis. He looked her straight in the eyes and said, "You'll either make it or you won't. If you are one of those who make it, do you really want to spend that time worrying over the possibility you won't? Let's just get you through this initial treatment first."
Wow. That sounds kind of harsh, but that's the way it is with ovarian cancer. Statistics don't really matter. For those with late stage disease, there is no way to predict whether or not the cancer will return. It truly is a waiting game.
Ovarian cancer is one of those cancers where early detection would truly make a difference. But where are the screams and cries of "Early detection saves lives!" for ovarian cancer patients? Where's their hoopla?
I went with my friend to her first chemotherapy yesterday. I winced a bit when I met her infusion nurse. She had on a pink ribbon pin and her name tag was surrounded by pink rhinestones.
My friend doesn't have breast cancer. She has ovarian cancer. Additionally, most of the patients in the infusion center at that time were men and I'm pretty sure none of them had breast cancer (although, it is definitely possible for men to get the disease). I did notice one woman coming in later who was covered in pink ribbons from head to toe, obviously being treated for breast cancer.
My friend takes it in stride, but I get angry on her behalf. I'm so pissed that she has cancer and I'm pissed that because her cancer isn't in the sexy breasts that few people are aware of it and how serious it is. Enough, already! We lose over 20,000 women a year in the US alone to ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer needs more than a pink ribbon and it needs more than a teal ribbon.
It needs better tools and screening for early detection. It needs to end. My friend needs a cure just as much as I do. As we both like to say, "We've got too much living left to do to deal with this." Or, as that popular meme says, "Ain't nobody got time for this!"