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Help battle ovarian cancer by speaking up.

Byline: Sandra Morgen For The Register-Guard

On Sept. 11, 2013, what I call "my 9/11," I was diagnosed with stage 3C fallopian tube (ovarian) cancer. Like 85 percent of women with this disease, I was diagnosed at a later stage.

I didn't fail to get an early detection test; there isn't one. Nor did I carelessly ignore early symptoms. I had never been informed that ovarian cancer had early symptoms, so when I experienced some of them I didn't know what they meant. And once troublesome symptoms became more persistent and serious, it took time to rule out more common diseases that also have those symptoms.

That so few women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at early stages, when the prognosis is much better, is one reason World Ovarian Cancer Day, May 8, is so important.

Ovarian cancer used to be called "the silent killer" because neither women nor most of their doctors understood the early symptoms. Recently, medical researchers have reached a consensus on four symptoms that, if persistent or represent a change from normal, should be checked out: bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and feeling the need to pass urine more frequently or urgently.

It is not easy for some women to talk about these symptoms. Many women experience one or more of them, especially as we age, and they don't mean cancer. But if these symptoms are unusual for your body, or if they are usual but are getting worse (present more than 12 times a month), it is wise to see a doctor, preferably a gynecologist.

Be your own advocate. Mention ovarian cancer. Let your doctor know you are concerned. In my case, 20 months after my initial diagnosis and successful surgery, I have begun my third course of chemotherapy. After the first four months of chemotherapy, my cancer marker was in the normal range. I was happy, ready to return to what I thought of as normal life. Six months later, the cancer recurred. Another 18 weeks of treatment, and my cancer marker was back in the normal range. Three months later I recurred again.

I live each day hoping and believing that this time, treatment will get me a longer remission; but like many others with ovarian cancer, it becomes more like living with a chronic disease.

For those of us living with ovarian cancer, World Ovarian Cancer Day is also an opportunity to ask our families, friends and you to help us advocate for significant investments in ovarian cancer research, especially research that will expand effective treatment options. Each year ovarian or fallopian tube cancer causes 140,000 deaths globally - including 14,270 women in the United States, and 220 Oregonians. While those numbers are fewer than for the more common forms of cancer, if you or a loved one is one of the more than 21,000 women in the U.S. this year who will receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, you would understand the importance of targeted research.

Furthermore, the mortality statistics have hardly budged over the past 40 years. Only two new drugs have been approved for the treatment of ovarian cancer in the last 10 years. Many dedicated researchers are doing important work to develop novel treatments, including targeted genetic, immune system and vaccine therapies. What Congress needs to hear is that there is broad support for new investments in cancer research, including targeted research on ovarian cancer.

I work with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. In March, hundreds of us visited hundreds of our senators and representatives, explaining through our own stories the importance of enhanced funding for research and health, education and prevention programs focused on ovarian cancer. We talked about the critical nature of the Ovarian Cancer Research Program, located in the Department of Defense; increased funding for the National Cancer Institute; and the value of ovarian cancer prevention and public health programs supported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since my diagnosis, I have experienced an abundance of love and caring from family, friends, health care providers, colleagues, and near strangers. That support helps me to face the challenges of this disease every day. You can help, too: Spread the word about these early warning symptoms so your loved ones and friends are well informed. And take a few moments to let your elected officials know that research investments in creating better treatments for ovarian cancer have your support.

Believe me, it can make a difference.

Sandra Morgen of Eugene, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon, is an advocate leader with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 8, 2015
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