February 4th is the World Cancer Day, a day dedicated to creating awareness for all the cancers that have been striking human kind for some time now. January was the month for creating awareness for cervical cancer. So, it’s safe to say I have read and come across quite a few cases of cancer, from childhood cancer, to the cancers in men, to gynaecological cancers.
Yet, while I was paying attention to the issue of cervical cancer, another has crept up on me. I know quite a bit about cervical cancer, I have been screened at least twice for the Human Papiloma Virus, and both times, it was recommended that I got vaccinated. Whether I got vaccinated is story for another day. So, with cervical cancer, at least there is something that one can do to find out if the cells on the cervix are normal and if they are not, then there are treatment options readily available and quite within reach.
On the other hand, ovarian cancer isn’t so easy to detect. It is not so common, but of all the cancers affecting women, especially gynaecological cancers, ovarian cancer has the highest death rate; more than half of the women it afflicts die. That is depressing and in recent times, there has been a gathering of interest on ovarian cancer, because the casualty rate is increasing, and those who live are faced with a life of infertility, no thanks to the surgical removal of the ovaries, alongside chemotherapy, which on its own wreaks havoc on the human body.
Temidayo, who has an 8 year old daughter, is a living testimony of God’s special favours. She has surpassed the doctor’s prediction of the cancer coming back in less than five years after her initial diagnosis. She was discovered to have ovarian cancer when her daughter was 3 years old. Out of nowhere, she found her tummy swelling and her pelvic area hurting, even when she brushed her hand around it. She bore the pain until it was no longer possible, so she went to the hospital. Several tests were done, until an abdominal-pelvic scan showed that her ovaries were inflamed. Other blood work revealed it was a late stage ovarian cancer.
It was a devastating diagnosis. Her clinic wasn’t equipped to deal with it, so she was referred to an Oncologist, and there the main ordeal started. Neither her regular Gynea nor the Oncologist believed she would survive. In fact, they worked as though, thinking, “We are going to do our best, but we are not holding out much hope of her surviving.” The death verdict was so palpable.
She had five sessions of chemotherapy, a hysterectomy to remove her entire womb, special surgery to remove her ovaries and part of her cervix, and another two sessions of chemotherapy which turned her bald temporarily.
In all of this though, she kept a positive attitude, for her daughter’s sake, who couldn’t understand the reasons for her mom’s prolonged hospital stay.
It’s been five years now, and Temidayo is still alive and, more importantly, still cancer-free. And at the end of the day, being alive is all that really matters. It might not seem so, but if you have being close to losing your life, then you begin to cherish it like never before.
Another cancer survivor is Desire, she is 43 years old and a mother to a teenage set of twins; a girl and a boy. When she had her twins, her doctor had told her she needed to complete her family soon, or she might not be able to if she waited for too long, due to the structure of her womb. Besides, the fact that she had twins with that body was not a guarantee that it would even happen again.
One day, she woke up with angry cramps that had her bent over in pain. That was how she got to the hospital, doubled over and in tears. While, she was given something for the pain, tests were carried out, questions asked, and when all the tests results came in, further testing was needed, her aching pelvis was prodded by more than one pair of hands, all of them with questions in their tone.
It was the scan and the blood tests which revealed all was not well with her reproductive system. Hers was the first case of ovarian cancer diagnosed in that hospital, and you can imagine how much attention she garnered. The good thing out of that attention was, everyone wanted to be on her case. The doctors paraded her ward; the nurses were extra kind and willing to help her with whatever she needed. She was a priority patient and they did all they could to ensure she survived the onslaught of the disease. And, thankfully, survive she did.
Like I said earlier, Ovarian Cancer is not common, but it causes more deaths than other female reproductive cancers. The sooner ovarian cancer is found and treated, the better the chances for recovery. But ovarian cancer is hard to detect early and that is why it kills more women than all other female cancers combined.
Women with ovarian cancer may have no symptoms or just mild symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage. Then it is hard to treat. Symptoms may include
- A heavy feeling in the pelvis
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Weight gain or loss
- Abnormal periods
- Unexplained back pain that gets worse
- Gas, nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
Risk factors include increasing age, family history of ovarian or breast cancer and/or a genetic predisposition to cancer in general.
To diagnose ovarian cancer, doctors perform one or more tests. They include a physical exam, a pelvic exam, lab tests, ultrasound, or a biopsy. Treatment is usually surgery followed by chemotherapy.
While so much attention is given to other gynaecological cancers, this silent killer, ovarian cancer, which kills more than half of those, if it strikes, should be get some day in the spotlight too.
Please pain attention to the symptoms.
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