September 03, 2013
Cancer patient: Don't ignore ovarian cancer symptoms
BY Bre Tipps
I knew my body was trying to tell me something. The stomach problems, the bloating, the pain I felt when my children would accidently hit or my pets would jump on me. I never thought it would be cancer. I was 26 with a good life ahead of me. Or so I thought.
As a series of tests revealed, my journey back to health would be a long one.
When the symptoms first started showing, I tried treating them with different products from health stores. I saw different doctors, but they all dismissed me, saying it was not a big deal.
The symptoms just kept getting worse. The pain was so bad I couldn't stand it any longer. A trip to the emergency room and a CT scan revealed golf ball-sized fibroid tumors on my uterus. A second test by another doctor showed that the tumors were even larger -- softball-sized. But I was told the chance of cancer was only 1%.
My ovarian cancer diagnosis
I went in for what was supposed to be a simple surgery. I awoke from surgery and saw my husband. He looked upset. I asked him how big the tumors were. He said he wasn't sure and told me to wait for the doctors.
The doctors said the surgery did not go as expected. My heart instantly dropped. He explained that I had stage 4 ovarian cancer. The tumors were wrapped around my colon. I immediately stated praying. God, this could not be true, I thought.
I asked if I would live. The doctors explained I'd have a long road and, without care, I'd only have six months to live. I decided to give it everything I had for my family, my husband and my three children, then ages 4, 10 and 11. It's thanks to them, as well as my friends and church, that I'm doing as well as I am.
Undergoing ovarian cancer treatment
I turned to MD Anderson. Many of our friends and neighbors in east Texas had traveled here for care and said it was the best. There, I first went through chemotherapy. My hair fell out, but I remained positive.
After a month, a CT scan revealed that my cancer had not responded to the chemo and the tumors were still growing bigger. So in late March 2012, I started a clinical trial. For nearly eight months, drugs called Avastin and Sovenifib shrunk my tumors.
Shortly after that, in November 2012, David Gershenson, M.D., performed a debulking surgery that removed 90% of the cancer. The rest was too dangerous to remove. I thank Dr. Gershenson from the bottom of my heart for the work he has done.
For the past two months, I've been undergoing hormonal therapy. But a recent CT scan offered a reason to be hopeful: the tumors are calcifying and dying.
Because there is no cure for this low-grade cancer, I will always need some sort of ovarian cancer treatment.
This means I will always miss out on some things healthy women my age can enjoy. I missed last year's hunting season, and I miss fishing with my husband. I miss running after my kids. I thought I'd be taking care of my family.
I never imagined my life turning out like this. But I know there is a reason for everything.
Raising awareness about ovarian cancer symptoms
The progress in my treatment gives me hope. (I'm even planning on going hunting in November.) But spreading awareness and helping others brings me even more hope.
In July, I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the 16th Annual National Ovarian Cancer Conference, and this September, I'm raising awareness in my hometown, Grand Saline, Texas. We'll hold our first Turn the Town Teal celebration in honor of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
I want other women to understand the symptoms and signs of ovarian cancer, including the bloating and stomach pain I experienced, among other symptoms. If I had known all these symptoms, I might have been more assertive with my local doctors and gotten my ovarian cancer diagnosis a little earlier. And, that may have helped me avoid a lifetime of treatment and allowed me to live the normal life I'd wanted.
Spreading awareness and helping others brings me even more hope.