Health Break | Published September 21, 2009

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

In honor of September being National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we felt there no better way to highlight the facts about ovarian cancer then a first person account. State College native, Wendy Swails Bollinger, generously shares her story with us.
“I would guess that not many people know that September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. But for those of us battling this disease, we think about it every day, not just one month a year. Sadly, this disease’s motto, ‘It whispers, so listen closely’ rings all too true when it comes to women being able to recognize their symptoms early. For this reason, the vast majority of ovarian cancers are not detected until it has spread well beyond its early most treatable stage.
Researchers continually search for a screening tool that would detect ovarian cancer early, much like mammograms do for breast cancer. Because the best two tests we have, a blood test known as a CA 125 and a transvaginal ultrasound, can be falsely positive, they are not recommended for screening the general population. However, both tests are recommended for women who have a family history of ovarian cancer, who have tested positive for the BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation, or who have experienced any of the following symptoms daily for more than a few weeks: abdominal bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, frequency or urgency of urination, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, or unexplained weight gain or loss.When I was initially diagnosed, the only symptoms I had were a gradual weight loss (which I chalked up to an increase in my exercise regimen) and extreme fatigue (which I blamed on my children!). In addition, I had no known family history to suggest that I might have inherited a susceptibility to the disease. Surprisingly, genetic testing later revealed that I do in fact carry the BRCA1 gene mutation. Nevertheless, as I stood in the doctor’s office on that fateful day, 3 years ago, I didn’t fit the “typical” picture of a woman with ovarian cancer. I was young, physically fit, of normal body weight, and had no family history of ovarian cancer. A more likely explanation was an infection. I persisted and returned to the doctor’s office, so an ultrasound and CT scan could be done. I was ultimately diagnosed with ovarian cancer that had spread well beyond my ovaries.
I am now so much more in tune with my body. In both instances when I’ve had a recurrence of my ovarian cancer, I have felt symptoms (such as those listed above) before my recurrence was detected by either an imaging scan or a rise in my CA 125 level. Ovarian cancer symptoms do exist…listen to your body and be your own medical advocate. Nobody knows your body better than you.”
Wendy perfectly describes the need for self-awareness and self-care. For those facing a cancer diagnosis of any type, the support of a patient navigator is available at Mount Nittany Medical Center. This individual serves as a resource for those making their way through the health care system. More information is available by calling 814-234-6175.
A wonderful organization, CancerCare, offers the L’Oral Paris OCRF Hope Line provides counseling and help to anyone facing an ovarian cancer diagnosis. To reach the Hope Line, call 1-877-OV-HOPE-1 (1-877-684-6731).
Whether using local or national resources, there is no need to face ovarian cancer alone. Wendy Swails Bollinger, RD, LDN is a Ovarian Cancer Survivor and Nutrition Consultant, State College, PAAileen S. Galley, ACSW, LSW is the Administrative Director of the Penn State Cancer Institute at Mount Nittany Medical Center.