By Chrystine Tedeschi
Something was definitely wrong. In April 1998, I began experiencing abdominal bloating, urinary frequency and fatigue. These symptoms increased and I became full sooner than usual after eating. I made repeated calls to my doctor. Each time, I was told I was sick because I was a teacher and was around a lot of students with germs or that it was just gas or early menopausal symptoms.
My doctor knew of the breast and ovarian cancer on my father’s side of the family but had previously dismissed this because it wasn’t on my mother’s side. By the end of June, the swelling in my lower abdomen had increased greatly and I was exhausted all the time. On the first day of summer break, I called the doctor and insisted on being seen. Little did I know that I was about to step into a nightmare.
A CT scan and ultrasound were ordered immediately after my physical exam. The results showed two large masses on my ovaries. I was told I almost certainly had ovarian cancer and that I had an appointment two days later with a gynecologic oncologist.
This was a very important first step because research shows that two things can increase a woman’s chances of surviving ovarian cancer: having surgery done by a gynecologic oncologist and diagnosis with early-stage disease.
Two days later, I had a five-hour surgery and was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer, which carries a poor prognosis. I had my first chemotherapy seven days after surgery and went home from the hospital two days later feeling like I was 99 years old.
The chemo regimen that I had has changed in the 19 years since my diagnosis, and much progress has been made to relieve nausea and vomiting. In my case, I was terribly sick and lost a great deal of weight. My dear husband, Richard, was an enormous support for which I am forever thankful.
I have been blessed to see my son, Jason, graduate from college, marry a terrific wife, Joyelle, and laugh with and adore my two grandchildren Roman and Ava. I am very cognizant of the fact that only 10 percent of women with late-stage ovarian cancer live more than 10 years and therefore feel it is incumbent upon me to do the advocacy work that I do. Sadly, 80 percent of patients are diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer.
I have been greatly rewarded by my volunteer work with SHARE as the regional coordinator of its Ovarian Cancer Helpline. I train survivors and family members for the Helpline, give free presentations to groups and participate in health fairs.
I am also the Buffalo area facilitator for an important Ovarian Cancer National Alliance program, Survivors Teaching Students, Saving Women’s Lives. Approximately every 6 weeks, I bring two survivor volunteers (or family members) into a classroom at Children’s Hospital and we meet with third-year University at Buffalo medical students. I give a short PowerPoint presentation on the signs, symptoms and risk factors of the disease and then we share our personal stories about our journey with ovarian cancer. I then open it up to questions from students, and they are very receptive to this format of teaching. I recruit and train new volunteers. (Our next presentation is Oct. 18.)
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and it is important to note the main symptoms of ovarian cancer: urinary frequency or urgency, feeling full quickly after eating, pelvic/abdominal pain and bloating. These symptoms will be new or unusual and will persist almost daily for two-plus weeks. There is no screening test for ovarian cancer, so it’s imperative to see a doctor to get a diagnosis if you have these symptoms.