Stop—Listen—Ovarian Cancer Whispers

Have you heard the whispers of ovarian cancer? Stop. Listen.

Despite my background in oncology nursing, I had missed an ovarian cancer whisper—nausea. Over the course of a few months in 2006, I experienced several bouts of nausea, but I dismissed them as the flu. Fleeting thoughts of ovarian cancer crept into my mind. But I rationalized as I brushed them away. This nausea is just too infrequent to be cancer.

One night the whisperer roared. I rolled over in bed and felt a mass in my abdomen. I gasped. Please let itjust be a uterine fibroid.

My gynecologist palpated a cantaloupe-size mass. She agreed that it was probably a fibroid, but I needed an ultrasound to be sure. 

In the darkened room, the ultrasound technician shot me a glance. My stomach tightened. I knew something was wrong. 

Back in the office, my doctor examined the ultrasound images and pronounced her verdict—ovarian cancer. 

I sat numb while she rattled off the tests and surgery that needed to be scheduled. Words spilled over her lips, but the syllables sounded foreign and distant. Is she talking to me?

After the surgeon removed a volleyball-size mass, I began six rounds of chemotherapy. The drugs terrified me.I hadwitnessed the devastating effects of chemotherapy on my patients. But now I was one of them. My nursing scrubs gave way to tieback gowns and skid-free gripper socks. 

Several months later, I returned to my nursing career. I’m grateful I’ve had no recurrence. 

Ovarian cancer assaults over 20,000 unsuspecting women per year and is the most lethal of all female cancers. There is no screening test for ovarian cancer. This insidious disease is often diagnosed in the latter stages because the symptoms can be vague. They whisper. 

May is Women’s Health Care Month. We use the acronym, BEAT, to describe the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer. 

Stop. Listen. Have you heard the whispers of ovarian cancer?