Ovarian Cancer Awareness month is important to me because it provides me so many opportunities to honor my mother and raise awareness about a critical women’s health issue.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecologic disease; but, when caught early, the 5 year survival rate is greater than 92%–a fact that resonates with me deeply because it is highlighted through my mother’s story. As her story will show you, our ovaries talk to us and let us know if something is wrong; it’s important to #ListenUp to your body and pay attention to your health.
My Mother’s Story
In 2009, my mother was the epitome of good health and an active 53 year-old woman. Prior to her diagnosis, she had multiple, complex ovarian cysts that her doctor monitored every three months. When I reflect back on her journey, I can now see that she experienced some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer that were misdiagnosed by doctors. I know now that this is common for other women as well, as the signs and symptoms of the disease are so vague and can be confused with other conditions and diseases.
A few months later, her doctor decided it would be best to remove her ovaries and scheduled her for routine, outpatient surgery — a bilateral salpino-oopherectomy. We were told she’d be able to go home that day after she recovered.
When she awoke from surgery, she learned about her Stage 1C ovarian cancer diagnosis from my dad. She and our entire family were devastated by this news. Once the doctors saw that it was cancer, she had a more invasive surgery, a 1-week hospital stay, followed by 6 cycles of chemotherapy. As a result, mom achieved a 2.5-year remission!
In March 2012, during a follow-up exam, her doctor discovered that the cancer recurred. My mom and our entire family were heartbroken. We knew she had a long road to recovery ahead. During this time, mom helped me plan my teal (the color of ovarian cancer awareness) and black wedding in New York City and in February 2013 stood by my side as my matron of honor.
Over the next 6 years, mom endured continuous chemotherapy treatments, participated in a number of clinical trials and multiple surgical procedures. While we may have had short periods of remission, her cancer always returned.
This past year was the most difficult in her journey–mom lost a significant amount of weight and developed complications from radiation. Multiple hospital stays later, her doctors recommended that the best way to get her stronger for any future treatment would be for her to enroll in hospice care. I was full of hope during this time. After only 6 days in hospice care, my mother passed away in July after a 9-year valiant and courageous battle. She was surrounded by her family at home and I feel privileged to have been holding her hand as she took her last breath.
I was super close to my mom and I miss her every day. By telling her story, I am able to work through my grief. I carry her in my heart and she lives on through me and my children. Now that I have a daughter of my own, it is important to me to educate women about this disease and empower them to be their own advocates by listening to their bodies. While there is no reliable detection test for ovarian cancer, the best thing women can do for themselves is know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, be informed about their family health history, and talk to their doctor about their individual risk level for ovarian cancer to develop a personal health plan that is unique to them.
My mom was such a generous and openly warm woman and I know her hope today would be that through sharing her experience with ovarian cancer, other women will be informed of its symptoms and path so that it could lead to more early detection and increased survival. This month, and every month, I want you to #ListenUp to your body, know what normal is for you, and talk to your family to better understand your family health history. It matters.
JENNIFER LINDSAY is a Bright Pink Education Ambassador. You can get in touch with her at [email protected]