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ovarian cancer signs and symptoms

Assess Your Risk, Community, Early Detection, Personal Stories

“At 34, I was the epitome of a healthy young woman.”

Did you know? About 21,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, and of those, 14,000 die from it. That’s essentially ⅔ ratio. This year, I became one of those 21,000; however, I’m also incredibly lucky to be one of the fortunate ones who caught it before it was too late.

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is important to me because there is so much that we, as women, don’t know about our bodies and how we can be proactive about our health.

My Story

At 34, I was the epitome of a healthy young woman. I eat clean, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, and wear sunscreen. One day, I walked into the doctor’s office and found out I have cancer.

My journey started with a gut feeling. In recent years, I’d had a number of friends who had confided in me about their trouble conceiving and, as an unmarried woman in my early 30’s who desperately wants children one day, I decided to trust my instincts and look into freezing my eggs.

At my initial appointment, the doctors gave me an ultrasound which revealed a large ovarian cyst on my right ovary. The doctors assured me it was nothing, “99% chance it’s benign” but nonetheless, they recommended I have surgery to remove it so it wouldn’t rupture and cause more severe internal damage. I reluctantly agreed.

Surgery number one was scheduled in September. The plan was to have the cyst removed and then I could proceed with egg freezing; however, after surgery, I walked in to my follow up appointment for the biopsy results and got the news everyone dreads hearing.

On October 5, 2017 I was diagnosed with immature teratoma (stage 1) ovarian cancer. As the doctors explained to me, the initial cyst was benign; however, during surgery, they found another tumor that none of the scans had shown. That tumor was cancerous.

The next few weeks were a blur. I saw numerous doctors for second and even third opinions to understand what was going on in my body and what was the best course of action for my treatment. After reviewing all options, the treatment plan was outlined to have surgery to remove my right ovary and, as long as the cancer hadn’t spread, I wouldn’t have to proceed with chemotherapy.

I felt so many emotions during those weeks leading up to surgery. I wondered how on earth this was happening to me, why I didn’t know and what signs I missed. As someone who is extremely type A, I scoured my calendar for missed annual appointments or anything of that nature and I came up short. I had done everything right, it just didn’t make sense.

Going into surgery was one of the scariest days of my life. I believed in my heart that I would be ok but I still saw the fear in everyone’s faces when they learned my story. But I’m nothing if not a fighter so I forged ahead, trying to remember to be brave like all those other women who’ve been through this battle too.

Luckily, on Thanksgiving that year after surgery #2, I was given the news that I was cancer-free. This means I would be closely monitored for the next year but essentially, I had a clean bill of health and wouldn’t need additional treatment.

As I stand here today, it’s certainly not lost on me how fortunate I am to have caught this early. And, when Bright Pink approached me to write this piece, I’m reminded of something I heard once that really stuck with me: It’s not luck that changes your fate. Everyone in this world will have situations that are “lucky.” It’s what you do with that luck that has the power to change the world.

For me, that’s why Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is so important. I’m standing here today not with any large life lesson or sign/symptom that I can share to save you or your loved ones from cancer. Instead, I’m joining Bright Pink and telling you to #ListenUp.

#ListenUp to your instincts. If you think something isn’t right, call your doctor. Who knows, it just may save your life. It saved mine.

MORGAN BELLOCK is a Public Relations professional living in the Chicago area. You can get in contact with Morgan at [email protected]

Assess Your Risk, Community, Early Detection, Personal Stories

“I took time to #ListenUp to my health. It made a huge difference.”

When I got a phone call from my Uncle Joe, a surgical breast oncologist, several years ago I had no idea that it would save my life. He called because he knew I had three aunts who had been diagnosed with cancer (one passed away from ovarian cancer at just 41 years of age, another after a long battle with breast cancer, and one who is a breast cancer survivor to this day) and encouraged me to see a genetic specialist to better understand my personal breast and ovarian cancer risk.

Before long, I entered a program that took a deep dive into my family history. While my test results came back negative for the most common genetic mutations associated with these cancers, the genetic specialist shared that my risk factor was greater than the average woman. Knowing this allowed me to have very important conversations with my doctors about early detection and prevention strategies.

Several years later, during a routine self-exam, I found a lump. I remember it all too well: I had just worked out and had 15 minutes for a quick shower before I needed to take my son to basketball practice. In fact, I can still remember looking at the clock in a typical rushed state. I recall telling myself that I was no good to him if I was not here, took those few extra minutes, and proceeded with my exam.

After several tests, the lump was diagnosed as stage one breast cancer. Because of the information I already knew about my family health history, I chose to undergo a double mastectomy and later, an oophorectomy. Understanding my level of risk allowed me to make informed decisions about my health.

As I continue my quest to share knowledge as a Bright Pink Education Ambassador, I cannot stress the importance of taking the time to #ListenUp to your health. As a woman, I know that the role of caretaker comes to me naturally, in addition to being a wife, employee, and volunteer. As women, we never forget to take our children to the dentist, or miss a deadline on a work project–but somehow in the midst of all of this, we often forget ourselves and our own health.

I can’t count the number of times I have heard from smart, educated women, that “breast and ovarian cancers don’t run in their family” or “they have not had a mammogram lately/skipped their annual well woman’s exam because they feel good.” When I hear these things, I explain that no one is exempt from these conversations and that taking the time to #ListenUp to our bodies and catch these cancers at early, non life threatening stages is so, so important.

Here are three things you can do today to help #ListenUp to your body:

  • Know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer–they can be confused with common digestive or menstrual issues.
  • Plan all of your annual doctor appointments for a specific month. For me, February is “take care of me month.”  I make sure that I schedule all of my annual appointments during this time because it works best for my life and schedule.
  • Use the first day of every month to remind myself to be self-aware. This month (and every month!), #ListenUp to your ovarian health, take note of any changes in your body, and spend some time collecting your family health history.

We know that these cancers are prevalent and serious. But if caught early, the survival rate is amazing! The key is to be your own health and wellness advocate, because early detection and prevention can save your life.  It saved mine.

SUSAN EURITT is a Bright Pink Educational Ambassador living in Chicago, IL. She is the Principal at Ruckus Strategic Partnership Consulting.

Community, Early Detection, Personal Stories

“She taught me to #ListenUp to my body.”

From my pre-school to preteen years, every day ended with a school bus ride to my grandparents’ house–though we just called it “grandma’s house” back then.

My favorite hour of the day was hearing the garage door rumble, and the screen door creak, and seeing my grandma stroll in with a hug and a tray of something sweet. She’d fill up the cookie jar, change out of her hospital clothes, and lay on the couch to relax with us.

One day, from the couch, my grandma pointed to the basketball hoop outside her window where my brother was playing, and told me I should try out for the 4th grade basketball team.

Some personality traits skip generations. My grandma, born in 1932, had always wanted to play sports. She had a badass scar on her leg from a bicycle kickstand, and her fervent loyalty to Minnesota Vikings football made me imagine her as a 1940s teenager running routes at a school recess she probably never had. Looking back, I’m amazed at how that one, simple sentence of encouragement launched ten of the most formative years of my life, on the court.

Shortly after my basketball tryout, I was riding in the backseat of my mom’s car when she told us devastating news. My grandma had noticed a strange back pain, and tests showed it was actually ovarian cancer. Although they expected to beat it into remission with chemo, the chance of recurrence was high. My stomach dropped, and I hoped desperately that the diagnosis was wrong, or that she’d at least beat the odds and stay with us. I couldn’t wrap my mind around my grandma not being present for my school graduations or wedding.

The very last time I saw her, we baked cookies, and I sat next to her on her favorite couch. Inside, I knew it was time to tell her I love her. An unspoken goodbye.

After a long and brave fight with ovarian cancer, and chemo, and wigs, and scarves, and oxygen and hospital stays–I lost my grandmother in November 2005.

What I remember most about her funeral was shivering from cold and nerves at the church lectern, and my uncle saying, “the world just got a lot colder.”

Six years later, I was a college senior working an on-campus job when I got the worst menstrual cramps of my life. I headed to the campus store for medicine, but when I got close, I knew something was wrong. My cramps seized a crippling grip on my abdomen until I could barely walk. I felt nauseated, and overcome with a raging fever. I quickly ducked into the bathroom, and tucked myself away in a stall. I wondered whether I would make it out, or if I was dying. If I was dying, I knew a bathroom stall was not the best place to find help. Suddenly, I felt an inexplicable reprieve. A cool, internal sensation. And for no identifiable reason, I thought of my grandmother. I took that split second of relief to crawl out of the bathroom and ask for help before I fainted and woke up in the hospital. After a series of poor medical experiences–including doctors who laughed at my questions and told me I was probably just pregnant–I was finally diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and potentially endometriosis, too.

Some traits skip generations. I watched my grandmother listen to her body. Seek out doctors. Ask questions. And fight–with a humble, beautiful will to survive, until her very last day. And, she passed that energy down, much like her love for sports.

I fight for my health and #ListenUp to my body because I love life, just like she did. Because I want to spread warmth and empower people, like she did. Because my health matters to my family–and the family I have yet to build–just like she meant the world to us.

ALEX BLEDSOE is a writer, filmmaker and communications strategist, and the co-founder of Breaktide Productions. Alex has been recognized as a Maynard 200 Fellow and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Fellow, and was previously a guest columnist for The Washington Post, an Aspen Institute emerging writer nominee, and a Hedgebrook scholar. Previously, Alex managed public relations for Apple. She is multilingual, and earned her B.S. from Georgetown University with a degree in international politics. In 2005, Alex’s grandmother passed away after battling ovarian cancer for five years. In 2011, Alex was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). She is an advocate for self love and practices self care through exercise, laughing, traveling and quality time with loved ones.

Assess Your Risk, Early Detection, Risk-Reduction Lifestyle

This September, We Want You to #ListenUp to Your Ovaries

Whether we recognize it or not, we are in constant conversation with our bodies. Dehydrated? Betcha have parched lips! Conquer an insanely hard workout last night? Those sore muscles sum it up perfectly. While some of these cues from our body are easier to recognize than others, let’s be real: our bodies are often the first to tell us when it is in need of some love or attention.

But, how often do we listen to our bodies when it comes to our ovarian health? When’s the last time you paused and took time to #ListenUp to what your ovaries are telling you? When we know that 1 in 75 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her lifetime and the 5-year survival rate can be greater than 92% when detected early, there is no time like the present to get up close and personal with our ovaries and ovarian health.

This Ovarian Cancer Month, Bright Pink wants you to tune in and #ListenUp to what your ovaries are telling you! We want to empower you to be your ovaries’ best advocate by knowing the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, feeling confident in knowing your body, and collecting your family health history to better understand your individual risk level for ovarian cancer.

We know what you’re thinking, “Okay, I know I need to #ListenUp to my ovaries, but what do I #ListenUp for?” We have answers. While many of these signs and symptoms can be confused for common menstrual or digestive issues, it’s important to stay in tune with your body and take note of any changes. If these signs or symptoms persist or worsen for 2-3 weeks, see your doctor as ask: “Could it be my ovaries?”

Primary Symptoms

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Needing to urinate urgently or often
  • Prolonged bloating
  • Difficulty eating/feeling full quickly

Secondary Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Menstrual changes

Join us all month long in sharing these signs and symptoms with the women you love so they can also #ListenUp to their bodies. We will also be doing some exciting things on social (think: female-inspired playlist to bounce to all month long) in addition to sharing personal stories from amazing women in our network about their experience with ovarian health and cancer. Be sure to follow us on Facebook (@BrightPink), Instagram (@BeBrightPink), and Twitter (@BeBrightPink) and use the hashtag #ListenUp to stay as up-to-date as possible! 

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