My Belly Button Saved My Life

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I realized what to look for, but I missed the signs. 

I went to an ovarian cancer awareness walk a decade prior to I was diagnosed with it at the age of 44. I took dwelling pamphlets describing it as a “silent killer” for the reason that most men and women skip the signs or symptoms, which include things like regular urination, sensation full immediately, improvements in bowel habits, bloating, tiredness, upset abdomen, back again pain, suffering throughout sexual intercourse, constipation and hefty durations.

Regretably, each a person of these signs could be a indication of something else, so we are usually misdiagnosed and never know we have ovarian most cancers until it is already state-of-the-art. It is incurable and typically fatal.

For 10 decades right after the recognition wander, I didn’t detect any alterations to my health that I believed have been abnormal. I ongoing finding Pap smears at the advisable intervals and started acquiring annually mammograms at age 41, even although my most important treatment medical professional advised against it. “There are far too numerous untrue positives,” she stated.

It was a skin doctor, not a gynecologist, who diagnosed me. I had a small development, the size and shade of a pencil eraser, in my navel. When the skin doctor taken off it, he thought it was anything harmless. The biopsy claimed or else. 

The simply call came on April 1, 2020. That very first working day, all I could do was get my blood examined. At this place in the pandemic, we didn’t know if we could get COVID-19 from surfaces. I applied my shirt sleeve to open doors, then woke up in the middle of the evening sporting the same shirt and asking yourself whether or not there was coronavirus on my sleeve. 

The creator learned the indicators of ovarian most cancers a 10 years right before her own prognosis. In this 2010 picture taken at a Most cancers Wander, she’s donning pink for breast cancer recognition and a smaller teal ribbon signifying ovarian cancer.

The blood examination uncovered elevated amounts of cancer antigen 125, a tumor marker that is not an totally reputable indicator of ovarian cancer. Way too quite a few fake positives. Also fake negatives. My CT scan a 7 days later confirmed that each individual ovary experienced been overtaken by tumors the dimension of little citrus fruit, and I had a third tumor the dimensions of a greater citrus fruit in the heart of my abdomen. The cancer had distribute up by my umbilicus and out my navel, which was, as far as I understood at the time, the only symptom I had.

There look to be as several methods to discover the most cancers as there are people who have it. According to the American Cancer Culture, that is 1 in 78 people today with ovaries, of all ages. A person in 108 will die of it.

A Pap smear does not detect ovarian most cancers, and there is no ovarian model of a mammogram. Amongst the people in my on the net assist groups, some identified their cancer even though they were being pregnant, or striving to figure out why they weren’t receiving pregnant. Some experienced unusual bleeding, or a further emergent party that landed them in a medical center.

Numerous other folks sought healthcare assistance for the signs and symptoms shown earlier mentioned, but ended up misdiagnosed with some thing like irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, diverticulitis or menopause. As well numerous sufferers were being despatched home believing it was practically nothing, or they were creating also big a offer out of it, or it was their fault simply because they ended up chubby.

We misdiagnose ourselves, keeping away from visits to the unexpected emergency room for these exact 3 explanations. I did. In hindsight, I did have excruciating back soreness six months in advance of I was diagnosed. I thought I’d strained my back lifting my 85-pound elderly pet dog. I learned to elevate with my legs and it typically went absent. I can’t think about a scenario the place my efforts to reduce decreased again discomfort would have led me to talk to about ovarian cancer.

Much more than a 12 months right after my analysis, right after many months remaining most cancers-totally free, I recalled intermittent sharp upper body pains in the latest years. My world wide web research at the time certain me it was heartburn, most probable from overindulging in processed carbs and chocolate. Waiting around it out at dwelling was preferable to sitting down in an emergency home for hours, and I hardly ever thought to mention it to any individual. It only transpired to me that this could have been a signal of ovarian cancer immediately after 13 months of racking my mind attempting to imagine of signs or symptoms I skipped. 

Experienced my belly button saved my everyday living?

Almost a year after completing chemotherapy, the author waits in the hospital lobby, masked and by herself, as she did for mo

Nearly a 12 months following finishing chemotherapy, the writer waits in the clinic foyer, masked and by herself, as she did for most of her most cancers procedure.

If my cancer hadn’t located its way out of my overall body as a result of my navel, it most likely would not have been uncovered until eventually immediately after it disrupted other crucial organs like my liver, kidneys or lungs. It could have been a death sentence. 

When I satisfied my gynecologic oncologist more than videoconference, she informed me, “Ovarian most cancers is not curable, but it is treatable.”

My therapy began with a few chemotherapy infusions, creating my hair slide out, just before we discovered that I experienced a unusual subtype termed very low-grade serous ovarian most cancers, which usually does not react to chemotherapy. My gynecologic oncologist mentioned, “The chemotherapy did not work as well as we hoped.”

I had to clarify, “You indicate it did not work at all.”

In June 2020, my surgeon eradicated my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, omentum, cervix, and 10 inches of colon for the reason that (shock!) just one of the ovarian tumors experienced perforated my colon. She taken out all the most cancers she could see, and my blood work following surgery showed decreased degrees of CA-125 as very well as a further tumor marker known as human epididymis protein 4 (HE4). Comply with-up CT scans have shown no proof of residual disorder.

A common thing for men and women to ask at this issue is, “So you’re fantastic now?”

Ovarian most cancers is regarded a long-term illness. I am very likely to have a recurrence at some point. Even with the elimination of all these organs, the cancer can occur back again elsewhere. But I really do not come to feel any closer to dying than I was a 12 months back. If it arrives back, by the time it arrives back again, I hope ovarian most cancers investigation will have led to remedy for all potential expressions of my cancer.

The author, second from left, featured on a billboard in London's Piccadilly Circus on World Ovarian Cancer Day 2021, beside

The writer, next from left, showcased on a billboard in London’s Piccadilly Circus on Globe Ovarian Most cancers Day 2021, beside other individuals who share her low-grade serous ovarian cancer prognosis.

The ribbon for ovarian most cancers is teal. I dyed my newborn cap of hair teal and painted my nails to match ahead of a September comply with-up with my health care oncologist. The nurse who took my vitals complimented the coordination. “Thanks,” I stated. “Ovarian Most cancers Awareness Thirty day period.” 

She paused in her disinfecting of the pulse oximeter and gave me a next appear. “Why didn’t we know that it’s Ovarian Most cancers Awareness Thirty day period?”

It’s possible for the very same cause I did not notice I experienced ovarian cancer, even though I’d been to an awareness walk. Ovarian cancer is a sneaky bitch.

Since my analysis, when I tell my good friends that a Pap smear can not detect ovarian most cancers, I also give them the rundown of the symptoms to enjoy for.

“I have all of all those,” they ordinarily say.

I questioned my gynecologic oncologist what they should do. Should they demand a CA-125 blood examination and abdominal ultrasound? No, she explained. They should really inform their physicians about their signs or symptoms and ask, “Do you assume it could have one thing to do with my ovaries?”

Then she told me that early screening does not increase ovarian cancer survival charges. That took me some time to wrap my head around. My knowing is that it does not essentially make any difference when we detect ovarian most cancers if we really do not have a way to treatment it.

Not only do we need to have the equal of a Pap smear for our ovaries, we also will need far more exploration to find a cure.

Kari Neumeyer is a writer and editor in the Pacific Northwest. When she’s not composing about most cancers, she writes about pet dogs and salmon. She is operating on a memoir about her ovarian cancer analysis and procedure. Her initial memoir, “Bark and Lunge: Preserving My Puppies from Training Issues,” was printed in 2014. She has a master’s diploma in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill College.

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