GREENE COLUMN: Pay heed to 'voice for the silent'
Chances are, a pimple won't send you sprinting to see your doctor.
Maybe it should.
The tiny blister on Jennell S. Washington's left inner thigh was not alarming at first; she simply wanted the itching and hurting to stop. Over-the-counter remedies helped for a while, but it grew worse and she ended up in the ER.
With a ringworm diagnosis and a prescription for anti-fungal cream, the pimple disappeared. But it returned with a vengeance.
The little blister multiplied all over her body, sending the 46-year-old cosmetologist on a 12-month, agonizing journey to 12 doctors. None correctly diagnosed her. It was only during surgery for what doctors thought were benign tumors that they learned what the pimple foretold: Washington had Stage 3 ovarian cancer.
The 'silent killer'
Now the Summerville resident tells everyone who will listen, "Don't ignore even a pimple. If I had not broken out, I would never have known ... and I would have died from it."
From April 2007 to April 2008, she saw doctors constantly. None thought she had cancer. She had two pap smears, both negative. One specialist thought she had fibroids and scheduled her for surgery.
On May 6, 2008, during surgery, doctors discovered the elusive cancer. "It was everywhere," she said.
After a hysterectomy and six rounds of chemo, she is three years, six months and nine days cancer-free. She cried when she lost her hair, but as a cosmetologist, "I figured out how to work it out."
Today, Washington is thankful for that pimple. While it was an unusual warning sign, most people don't get any symptoms -- the reason the disease is called the "silent killer."
Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect. The American Cancer Society says it is the ninth-most-common cancer in women. Early symptoms include bloating, pelvic pain, upset stomach and pain during sex.
The society estimates there will be about 21,900 new cases in the U.S. this year, and about 15,460 deaths.
Washington closed her business last year and is on sabbatical. Her mission now is to warn women about the need to be diligent about their health in general. "I'm the voice for the silent," she said.
She attends a monthly support group where she talks to women and hands out information about the disease. "I can have compassion because I know what it feels like. I thank God I'm still here and he is still working miracles."
Washington, who is married with three daughters, said it is important for women to know their bodies and know what isn't normal for them.
She knows girls as young as 10 and women as old as her grandmother who have ovarian cancer.
Washington and other survivors also talk to students at MUSC about their ordeals and to look for the unusual -- like a simple little pimple.
Reach City Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555.