Vigilance is vital for life-saving detection of ovarian cancer
Maybe you don't know that September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month or that teal is the designated color for this cancer. Ovarian cancer is not an everyday topic of conversation. In fact, it is known as a silent killer. Survivors who understand this disease intimately want to scream and tell women to pay more attention. We want to prevent every woman from enduring a late-stage diagnosis, chemotherapy, fear of relapse and the psychological as well as physical challenges that result from ovarian cancer.
In the U.S. there are 22,000 new diagnoses and 15,600 deaths each year.
One reason for these dismal statistics is that there are no early screening tools. Annual pap smears do not detect ovarian cancer. The best chance for early detection is a woman's vigilance about noticing changes in her body.
The symptoms are common and associated with many other ailments, but women must not ignore these symptoms. They include bloating, pelvic and/or abdominal pain, indigestion, frequent urination, unusual fatigue and unexplained weight gain or loss.
Women of all ages, especially those with a family history of cancer, are at risk for ovarian cancer, and this risk increases with age. However, age susceptibility is meaningless to my friend, a 20-year-old College of Charleston student, who has completed surgery, chemotherapy and is waiting for a bone marrow transplant. Ovarian cancer can attack any woman.
There is support for local women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Lowcountry Women with Wings (LWWW) is a program of the Center for Women established by Terry Scharstein before her death in 2008. Her wish was to help inform women about the disease. The website, www.lowcountrywomenwithwings.org, includes information and resources available to Ovarian Cancer patients and their families in the Lowcountry.
Thanks to the generosity of The Medical Society of Charleston and the Holy City Beard and Mustache Society, LWWW has launched an ovarian cancer education and awareness campaign. 35,000 ovarian cancer information cards will be distributed to more than 100-area physicians' offices to provide women easy access to information.
In conjunction with the South Carolina Ovarian Cancer Foundation, a public awareness effort will take place during the month of September. A partnership with the College of Charleston's School of Education, Health and Human Performance will help LWWW reach thousands of young women and men through their annual Health Fair.
I have participated in the Survivors Teaching Students Program at the Medical University of South Carolina. This program, currently offered in over 90 medical schools, features ovarian cancer survivors who tell their stories to third-year medical students. Survivors put a face and voice to this disease to emphasize the importance of listening to patients' concerns and to sensitize these future doctors to the psychosocial aspects of ovarian cancer.
As a survivor of ovarian cancer, I understand well that knowledge is key to an early diagnosis. Join me, other survivors and Lowcountry Women with Wings and scream -- break the silence and save someone you love.
Sue Sommer-Kresse, Ph.D
Ovarian Cancer Survivor
Lowcountry Women With Wings