May: Women’s Healthcare Month

A Stealth Attack

By Joanie Shawhan

Do you know the symptoms of one of the most insidious diseases assaulting women today? I thought I did. But despite my background in oncology nursing, I had missed a cardinal symptom of ovarian cancer—nausea. Over the course of several months, I had experienced a few episodes of queasiness, mistaking it for the flu. Fleeting thoughts of ovarian cancer even crept into my mind, but I brushed them away. This nausea is just too infrequent, I rationalized.

During the blackness of night, a late warning sign emerged. I rolled over on a firm grapefruit-sized mass in my abdomen. When I pressed on the growth, stabbing pain clutched my abdomen and sucked my breath away. I hope this is just a uterine fibroid.

My doctor agreed that a fibroid was the most probable diagnosis, but we needed to schedule an ultrasound. In the darkened room, the ultrasound technician shot me a glance. I knew something was wrong. After the scan, I tucked the films under my arm and strode into my doctor’s office. She examined the images, then spun around and faced me. Her verdict? Ovarian cancer—the size of a cantaloupe. While she rattled off the tests and surgery that still needed to be scheduled, I sat numb. Words spilled over her lips, but the syllables sounded foreign and distant. Is she talking to me?

After surgery, I endured the ravages of chemotherapy: baldness, crushing chest pain, nausea and brain fog. Fatigue siphoned my strength and left me winded.

My sister said, “We have to make this fun,” and she sent me my first installment of hats. Fun? Hats—yes. Chemotherapy—no.

But after a while, my hair grew back with perfect summer highlights. A spring returned to my step and the fog lifted off my mind. The anxiety that gripped my chest prior to each follow-up appointment has dissolved into what I now dub “a social visit.”

May is Women’s Health Care month Do you know the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

  • Pain or pressure in the pelvis, abdomen or lower back
  • Abdominal bloating or a sense of fullness
  • Nausea, constipation, diarrhea, gas or indigestion
  • Urinary frequency or urgency
  • Fatigue

If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor. The life you save? Your own.

I won my race against cancer.

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