Feeling tired, sluggish and generally ‘off’? Most of us feel this way sometimes, especially if we’re working too hard, if we are going through a stressful time or if our kids are being extra-demanding.
But for mum-of-two Deborah Robertson, these common symptoms were her body’s way of telling her something wasn’t right. After she fainted in the shower, she booked in to see a doctor.
I felt tired, depressed, just generally unwell. I was also having really heavy periods at the time and was thinking [that] if I could cure the heavy periods, all would be good in the world.”
Deborah’s GP sent her for an internal scan to check things out. It was discovered she had a tumour on her ovary. A couple of days later she was told over the phone that it was cancerous.
It was the most traumatic phone call of my life.”
Ovarian cancer kills 1000+ women a year
Deborah is one of the 1,510 women in Australia diagnosed with ovarian cancer each and every year.
That’s four women a day!
Want to hear something even more shocking?
Of the 1,510 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, 1,046 women will die from this dreadful disease.
Yes, 1,046 women. 1,046 women will be counting down the days they have left with their loved ones. They will be forced to leave their partners to plan a funeral and to leave their kids to grow up without a mum. 1,046 women will die from this awful disease. This isn’t fair but it’s the scary statistic behind this awful cancer.
Deborah was one of the lucky ones. Doctors caught her cancer at stage one.
“I had a radical hysterectomy where they took everything, including the cervix,” she says.
Fortunately, cancer had not spread anywhere else, and, after several check-ups, Deb was deemed cancer-free. She has been so for 10 years now.
“I was incredibly lucky that I went to the doctors regarding the heavy periods as if not, it would not have been found in time,” Deborah says.
Know the facts: Ovarian cancer awareness
While, for Deb, the heavy periods were one of the reasons she decided to go to the doctor, heavy periods are actually NOT a symptom of ovarian cancer. But, in Deb’s case, this unrelated symptom ended up saving her life.
What are the signs of ovarian cancer?
This is one of the scariest things about it – many of the symptoms only become obvious in the later stages. However, like Deborah, many women who are diagnosed with the disease recognise that ‘something’ isn’t quite right within their body, even before a formal diagnosis is made.
These are the key symptoms that can indicate ovarian cancer:
- Abdominal bloating or increased abdominal size
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Appetite loss, feeling full quickly or indigestion
- Urinary changes such as frequency or urgency
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Unexplained fatigue
Ladies, write these down, remember them, share them and if you experience them, go see your GP.
It is worth noting that there are plenty of other, non-life threatening, conditions that can cause the same symptoms, but if you are continually experiencing the above, have a chat to your doctor.
Know the risks
Women should also be aware of the increased risk factors for ovarian cancer. These are:
- A family history of ovarian cancer – the risk of developing ovarian cancer is higher if one or more blood relatives (such as mother, sister or daughter) has had ovarian cancer.
- Family history of breast or colon cancer.
- A mutation in one of several known genes. Up to 15 per cent of all cases of invasive ovarian cancer involve the inheritance of a mutated gene. Women who have inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a substantially increased risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Women with Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer or HNPCC) also have an increased lifetime risk of ovarian cancer.
- Increasing age
- Medical conditions such as endometriosis
- Use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Tobacco smoking
If something doesn’t feel right, ovary-act!
Deb is the first to admit that, when it comes to ovarian cancer, it’s so important to ovary-act!
Before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer I had a meeting with my boss and told her ‘I don’t feel good, I know you will think I am being melodramatic, but I actually feel like I am dying!’ She said I was overreacting!”
Turns out, she wasn’t overreacting at all. We know our bodies best and if you think something is not right, ovary-act and get it checked!
How to diagnose ovarian cancer
Many women wrongly assume that a pap smear can detect ovarian cancer. It cannot – this is what it used to check for cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer.
The only way to detect ovarian cancer is through a transvaginal ultrasound or a specialised blood test, which looks for a specific protein.
This protein, called CA-125, is often high in women with ovarian cancer. The problem with these diagnostic methods, however, is that the cancer is often in an advanced stage by the time it registers on a scan or in a blood test.
Supporting women with ovarian cancer
For women who have ovarian cancer, the diagnosis is devastating. After all, the odds of survival are not good, especially compared to other cancers such as breast cancer.
Women with ovarian cancer need our support, and they certainly deserve it!
This is why we are encouraging all of our Mum Central readers to get involved in Paint the Town Teal, the national fundraiser to raise awareness and show support to women with ovarian cancer.
What is Paint the Town Teal?
It’s a way for us women to join forces, have some fun, eat teal-themed baked goods and drink teal-themed cocktails all the while raising funds for Ovarian Cancer Australia.
Get together with friends, family, local business, community and show your support. You may hold a golf day, tea party, charity run, a teal workday, movie night, pamper day, trivia or games night. By hosting an event and raising funds, you are helping save lives and supporting these women.
- Choose your teal inspiration. Popular ideas include a morning/ afternoon tea, a movie night, a 5km walk/run, a pamper day or a trivia games night.
- Register your event. You can do so through the link below:
3. Choose the details. Including time, date and venue. If you want to keep the costs down and keep it simple, consider playing hostess at home or choosing a free venue such as a park.
4. Pass out the invites, promote your event and show your support. Our campaign goal is $5,000 and we reckon we can SMASH this. Funds raised go to resilience kits for the brave women battling ovarian cancer, more support services, both online and in-person, national healthcare awareness and various research projects.
Time to ovary-act
We need your help to make a difference. The more people that know about Ovarian Cancer Australia, the greater the impact. Hopefully, by knowing the signs of ovarian cancer, more women will come forward and get checked out.
Early detection is vital for survival and losing more than 1,000 beautiful women a year to ovarian cancer is, well, it’s just not acceptable.
So Ovary-act before the end of March and host an event to support women with ovarian cancer and raise funds for Ovarian Cancer Australia. Every dollar does make a difference and together we can fund better support for women living with ovarian cancer.