Can You Say the Word Vagina to Your Doctor?

 Mom 2009

Mom 2009

I didn’t imagine my life would take the route that it did. No one ever does. I thought my mother would always be there to talk about my latest problems. I thought she would always be waiting in the kitchen with a bowl of soup. I thought she would always continue to be my rock and remind me that I was capable of anything when I stopped believing in myself.

I never knew that rock could crack. I never knew that I'd have to make sure I saved all of her favorite recipes. I never thought my mother would get cancer. But she did. She was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer in August of 2006 and given less than 5 years to live. She died in September of 2011, exactly 5 years, one month and 8 days from diagnosis.  

May 8th is World Ovarian Cancer Day, only a few days before Mother's Day and more than a date on a calendar. On this day, we look to remember mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, and nieces who have passed and honor those who are still fighting for their lives.

 

 

1 in 72 women are at risk for being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Their risk increases with age.

That may lead you to think that this is an "older" woman's disease. It isn't.

While most of the cases are in women over the age of 66, any woman of any age is at risk. I’ve learned of a seven-year-old with ovarian cancer for the second time and an 18-month-old infant. Women in their twenties are getting full hysterectomies because of the threat of the cancer.

Can you imagine going on a first date and trying to figure out when to tell your potential partner that you can't have children? These are the stories of young women I met at the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation Alliance a few years ago.  Their stories have haunted me since.

The women who are most at risk for ovarian cancer test positive for the BRCA gene, which stands for BReast CAncer. Women with this gene are 11-40% more likely to develop ovarian cancer. Those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are ten times more likely on top of that percentage.

1 in 95 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will die.

When I lost my Mom I knew very little about the disease. It is routinely misdiagnosed because of the similarity of symptoms it has to other, non lethal illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome, candida, or simply a woman’s monthly cycle. The illusive symptoms are often the reason why ovarian cancer is often diagnosed too late, resulting in the lowest survival rate of all gynecological cancers. The major symptoms include: 

  • Bloating;
  • feeling full after Eating or having a reduced appetite; 
  • persistent Abdominal pain; and
  • Trouble urinating or urinating more frequently.

Having all four of these symptoms at once are CLASSIC STAGE ONE ovarian cancer symptoms. 

If you are experiencing ALL FOUR these symptoms at once for two weeks straight and no change in diet or exercise provides any relief, go to your OBGYN and tell her "Prove to me I do NOT have ovarian cancer."  

Most doctors have only SEVEN minutes to see you so you want to come prepared.  

On average, a doctor only has seven minutes to see her patients, so coming in prepared with your tracked symptoms will help you and your doctor get a good, viable understanding of what may be causing your discomfort. You can download a symptom tracker from my website and take the data to your doctor. Seven minutes may not seem like a long time, but if I had seven minutes with my mother today, I would milk every second of it.

Currently there is no test for ovarian cancer.

A PAP smear won’t detect the cancer. Drawing blood won’t detect the cancer. There is simply no test to detect ovarian cancer right now because there are 23 different types. There are routine procedures every doctor follows, but only a biopsy of tissue will confirm or deny a diagnosis.

While there is no test currently, many are working on it.  The Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation Alliance and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition Stand Up to Cancer Dream Team "brings together internationally renowned experts in the science of DNA repair, translational investigators, and clinicians, across six institutions, to create new programs in discovery, translation, and clinical application, while cross-fertilizing and educating researchers at all levels to enhance collaboration and catalyze translational science."

Until we have a test, women need to be our own best line of defense and be vigilant about the signs and symptoms.

Tuesday, May 8th, I will be hosting a webinar about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and how to talk to your doctor. I will be joined by Dr. Asela Russell, MD, the founder of the Center for Women’s Health in Denver, CO and Board-Certified Nurse Midwife Donna Figueroa, the Women’s Healthcare Provider for Millennium Pregnancy and Gynecology in Alexandria, VA..

Sign up to join here for free.

But Houston, we have an even bigger problem. Young women who are potentially affected by ovarian cancer avoid going to their doctor out of embarrassment or fear.

  • 66% of young women between the ages of 18 and 24 actually avoid going to their doctors because they are so shy of saying the word “vagina.”
  • A quarter of young women avoid going to their doctor altogether simply because they don’t know the words to use to describe their own bodies, says a survey done by Ovarian Cancer Action.
  • In a different study, women show their fear of what the reputation of this cancer represents.
  • One quarter of them wouldn’t talk to their doctor because they don’t want to discuss their sexual history,
  • 40% of them saying there is a greater stigma around gynecological cancers than other type of cancer.

It’s not enough to paint “Ovarian Cancer” on a sign and share it on Facebook. It’s not enough to list the symptoms and expect people to go to their doctor immediately. It’s not enough when it might be too late.

Beating ovarian cancer is the message we need to spread.

With a lack of funding in ovarian cancer research, there has been no significant improvements in detecting or treating ovarian cancer in the last 50 years except for one research study unearthed ten years after it started. In 2007, research was conducted that determine 75% of ovarian cancer actually arises in the fallopian tubes.

Women with the BRCA gene have been getting not only their breasts removed, but their ovaries as well, thinking the cancer starts there. But it doesn’t. And now they cannot bear children. And they are still at risk for ovarian cancer. Could the removal of the fallopian tubes, and not the ovaries, lead to better prevention strategies?

That is why the work of the  Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation Alliance and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition Stand Up to Cancer Dream Team is so important and why you should contribute to any one of these very worthy organizations.

With this research, we can look to beat ovarian cancer before it comes after our loved ones. Now, we care for those who are suffering and we turn their suffering into the greatest moments of their life so they know, despite this horrible disease, they are loved and they are more than just a statistic. You can read more about coping with my mother’s diagnosis and turning your darkest moments into your greatest gifts in my book When I Die, Take My Panties.

Join me for my free webinar about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and how to talk to your doctor on Tuesday May 8th at noon EST.

As I said, I will joined by Dr. Asela Russell, MD, the founder of the Center for Women’s Health in Denver, CO and Board-Certified Nurse Midwife Donna Figueroa, the Women’s Healthcare Provider for Millennium Pregnancy and Gynecology in Alexandria, VA.

Please join me to raise awareness for BEATING ovarian cancer.

If you are a woman or know a woman, download my free symptom card and tracker, join me for the webinar and please, and share this article.  You may just save a life in doing so.

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Jennifer Coken2 Comments