This guest post was first published in 2016 but it is a message that is very important and should be repeated regularly. My thanks to Karen Ingalls for sharing her story and also the symptoms all women should be aware of.
Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the reproductive system. Karen is an ovarian cancer survivor and therefore supremely qualified to write this article.. The post carries an important message about understanding how our bodies work and how we should be on the alert for anything that seems out of the ordinary.
OUTSHINING OVARIAN CANCER by Karen Ingalls.
I am a retired registered nurse and had very limited education about gynecological diseases and cancers. From working in hospice I only knew that ovarian cancer is the deadliest one of all gynecologic cancers. My journey and initial diagnosis with ovarian cancer is not an unusual one.
I had gained a few pounds and developed a protruding stomach, both of which were unusual for me since I had always bordered on being underweight. When my weight continued to increase, I began an aggressive exercise and weight-loss program. I never considered these changes to be anything more than normal postmenopausal aging.
I saw my gynecologist for my routine PAP smear, which only determines the presence of cancer cells in the cervix. She could not get the speculum into my vagina and when she palpated my abdomen she felt a mass. I was rushed to get a CT scan, which revealed a very large tumor in my left lower abdomen. Two days later I had an appointment with a gynecologic-oncology surgeon for an evaluation.
A week later I had a hysterectomy by the gynecologic-oncology surgeon from which I learned the tumor was malignant. It is critically important that such a specialist in this field of oncology perform the surgery. They are experts and know what to look for and how to safely remove any tumors.
My surgery involved removing the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, omentum, ten lymph glands for microscopic investigation, and ten inches of my colon where the tumor had grown into. I am blessed that there were no cancer cells in my lymph glands or other organs. Two weeks later I was then started on chemotherapy for six rounds.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are subtle and common to many women so they are often ignored or attributed to something more benign. Most physicians do not consider the possibility of the presenting symptoms to be related to ovarian cancer. Often the woman is sent from one specialist to another, which I call the “Gilda Radner Syndrome.” With each passing day the cancer is growing and putting the woman at greater risk of being at a more terminal stage.
These are the most common symptoms:
- Abdominal bloating
- Pain in abdomen
- Low back pain
- Frequency of urination
- Changes in bowel habits
- Increased indigestion or change in appetite.
- Pain with intercourse
- Unusual vaginal discharges
- Menstrual irregularities
If a woman experiences any of these symptoms for two weeks, it is recommended that she see her gynecologist and insist on an abdominal ultrasound and a CA125. The only laboratory-screening test currently available is a CA125 blood test, which unfortunately has a high incidence of false positives. We women need to be our own advocates and demand these inexpensive tests.
If the ultrasound and possibly a CT, MRI, or PET scans reveal a tumor, then in my opinion the woman must see a gynecologic oncologist. Typically the woman undergoes a debulking surgery, which is a complete hysterectomy and removal of any lymph nodes or any suspicious surrounding tissue or organs. The only way to accurately determine if cancer is present is through specimen testing of the tissue.
The risk factors are:
- Family or self-history of breast, colon, ovarian, or prostate cancers
- Eastern Jewish heritage (Ashkenazi)
- History of infertility drugs
- Never been pregnant
- BRCA 1 & BRCA 2 positive mutation
- Older than 60
I was staged at IIC and given a 50% chance of surviving 5 years. I had no family history of ovarian cancer and only one relative who had had breast cancer. I did not fit the typical criteria, and the BRCA1 and BRCA2 markers were negative for mutation. So the question, “Why did I get ovarian cancer?” remains unanswered and it is actually not an important one any longer.
The word cancer creates fear in everyone either mildly or extremely. Yet so often the things we fear are never as great as the fear itself. As a young person I had learned from my grandmother and adopted aunt that attitude, acceptance, and determination are the keys to facing a fear and to healing the body, mind, and spirit. Those women were, and still are today, w strong role models for me. They taught me about living a healthy lifestyle, which included a belief in God, exercise, good nutrition, positive thinking, healthy touch and meditation. These lifestyle choices had helped me face childhood abuse, divorce, alcoholic parents, and untimely deaths, and now they have helped me live with cancer.
I prefer to use the word challenge instead of problem, test, or trial. I like the word challenge because I envision positivity, learning, growing, and putting my best efforts forward. I did not think about being cured of the cancer, but more about how I can live my life with dignity, and what I am to learn from this new role as a woman with cancer. A family friend, Dr. LaJune Foster once said, “Look about for each bright ray of sunshine: cherish them, for in the days ahead they will light your path.” I deeply believe in this way of living.
I wrote about my journey with ovarian cancer to educate, support, and inspire women and their families. It is my own unique experience, but there are some common emotions, events, and experiences that all cancer survivors share. Like many others traveling this road, I have experienced valleys and mountaintops, darkness and rays of sunshine. I do not know what the future holds for me, but I have learned a lot about myself and met some incredibly courageous women.
The challenge of ovarian cancer was an opportunity for me to become a better person. My life is far richer and has the greater mission, which is to spread the word about this lesser known disease. I truly see each moment as a gift that is not to be taken for granted, but lived to its fullest with love.
An important lesson I learned with the challenge of ovarian cancer is that the beauty of the soul, the real me, and the real you, outshines the effects of cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation. It outshines any negative experience.
©Karen Ingalls 2021
Books by Karen Ingalls
One of the recent reviews for Outshine
I have had the pleasure of meeting Karen Ingalls at a few of the support groups recently. I am a one year survivor of endometrial cancer. Karen has been so very helpful to myself and many other survivors as this I am sure of. She is there for any question or encouragement you may need. She is truly an inspiration to be positive and on the right path with my journey going forward. I read her book Outshine recently and find her even more amazing as she has shared her inner thoughts and own journey with us. The book is very well written and very interesting to read as she takes you through a life with Cancer and the challenges it faces for many of us. Thank you Karen for being so thoughtful, caring, inspiring and truly a wonderful human being!!! I look forward to reading more of your books in the future. Much Love to you and your family.
All proceeds from the book sales go to gynecologic cancer research.
About Karen Ingalls
Karen Ingalls is the author of five books of which two are award-winning. She has published non-fiction, biographical novel, historical novel, biography, and short stories. She is a retired Registered Nurse with a Master’s Degree in Human Development.
Her most recent book, Learning About Autism: One Mother’s Journey of Discovery and Love tells the story of Carol Tucker and her adopted son, Justin. She is a recognized special education teacher, leader in the state of Florida, developer of curriculum and teaching methods, and co-founder and director of the first charter school for autism in Florida. Justin is a miracle who has astounded doctors and social workers with his achievements. He rose above his cerebral palsy, autism, and given up as hopeless.
Ms. Ingalls’s non-fiction book, Outshine: An Ovarian Cancer Memoir, won first place at the 2012 Indie Excellence Book Awards in the category of women’s health. It was a top finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award of 2012 in the two categories of health and self-help. The book offers hope and inspiration to women and their families.
She wrote a series of twelve short stories in When I Rise: Tales, Truths, and Symbolic Trees.
Davida: Model & Mistress is about the love affair between her great-grandparents Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Davida. There are little-known facts about Davida except for her role as a model for many of the sculptor’s famous works. It won the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and the Apple Award for 2016.
Novy’s Son, The Selfish Genius, is about Murray Clark, who sought love and acceptance from his father, who was the bastard child of the famous sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. After reading Iron John by Robert Bly, Ms. Ingalls recognized what was missing in her father’s life.
She is a blogger, public speaker, author of many articles, and advocate for gynecologic cancer awareness and fundraiser for research. In her spare time, she loves to read and play golf.
Thank you very much for dropping in today and I am sure you will have found Karen’s concise but easy to follow post on this very important health issue interesting and that you will bear in mind the symptoms that might identify you should seek medical help.. Thanks Sally.