Monthly Archives: September 2012

PSA: Ovarian Cancer Month

Greetings, fellow Earthlings …

I don’t know where that came from – just out of my head, I guess! Anyhoo … the lesson for today is intended for all you gals out there, and for the guys who know gals … which would be everybody.

September is Ovarian Cancer Month!

Teal is to ovarian cancer as pink is to breast cancer.

Around the world this month people have been doing Walks and otherwise raising money and awareness regarding Ovarian Cancer. In Canada, the UK, Australia, the US and elsewhere there are events going on and educational outreach happening.

There are no useful screening tests for OC, which makes it very tricky to catch because the symptoms are not uncommon, especially for women of a certain age. Symptoms can include:
• Bloating
• Pelvic or abdominal pain
• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
• Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
• Back pain
• Fatigue/sleep changes
• Nausea, indigestion, flatulence
• Changes in bowel function (constipation, diarrhea)
• Menstrual irregularities
• Weight gain or loss

My (subtle) symptoms came on just as I was getting ready to go to the UK for a long-overdue visit, but got worse while I was away. When I got back to Vancouver I made an appointment with my family doctor but (luckily) before I could get there my ovary twisted itself and caused me to go to Emergency. That fast-tracked me and gained me about a month over waiting to see my GP. No-one knows if this contributed to me being only Stage 1 vs Stage 3 or 4 – the doctors simply do not have these answers.

So, the moral of the story is … you should be aware of your body and if you notice changes insist that your family doctor send you for the appropriate testing. This should include:
• Ultrasound
• Ca 125 testing (the OC marker)

For me the Ca 125 marker was not a great indicator as I was “just” at the top end of normal, while some women have readings 20 times higher than I did.

There are no known causes, but higher risk groups include those who:
• Have not had children
• Were not on the Pill for any appreciable time
• Have not had a hysterectomy
• Are of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage

There is a gene component to this. I have been put into the Hereditary Cancer Program of the BCCA, which will help the researchers learn more about this type of cancer. On my mother’s side pretty much everyone has been affected by cancer of some type, so the goal is to establish if I have a specific gene mutation related to OC and breast cancer (they are connected). I have not yet had the test done so don’t know if this was largely pre-destined or happened by chance.

Unless diagnosed at a very early stage, OC has a high mortality rate. The fact that 1 in 71 women will develop OC, and fewer than 20% of cases are diagnosed at an early stage (as I was), means that this is something people should be aware of.

OC has recently been shown to originate in the fallopian tubes. These are easy to remove as a precautionary measure.

My next posting will be more personal but I thought I would take this opportunity to put the word out, so that a little more becomes known about OC.


Hair Today, More Tomorrow

Hello everyone …

I’ve been really enjoying the shaved head look this summer! Small children are puzzled by me but just stare quietly. I am sure I would have asked my parents, but in the ’60s a bare head of any kind was cause for comment! Grown-ups ignore it.

Sometimes it really doesn’t feel any cooler than when I had hair, but when the breeze comes it is nice and refreshing. Now that we are getting cooler evenings I am back to wearing baseball caps and other head gear to keep me protected. Never a very warm-bodied person I find I am generally a bit colder, even on warm, sunny days. This is probably because the blood cells are working overtime and can’t be doing everything they should.

Here is what I looked like before all this started.
Current Look
This is how I look now. Yes, that is Glenlivet in the glass – OK for the period between chemo Cycles.

Apparently hair often comes back curly, with a different texture and with a touch of some other colour – commonly a lilac/purple tint!

I am into Cycle 4 now (just over the half way mark) and starting to feel a lot more fatigued. This is a bit frustrating as I have generally felt around 80% normal so far. I stopped the steroids, which I believed was a good thing, but the substitute anti-nausea drug had some unpleasant side-effects so I may revert back. There are a few more chemo related things kicking in which are a bit boring – sore gums, kind of a bad taste in my mouth and some nerve damage in my feet. However, I suspect from the questions I am asked that things could be a lot worse.

It is now indisputably apparent that while some people are as inquisitive as I am about the process, the illness, the treatment etc others very much take a head-in-the-sand approach. Neither side understands the other. The nurses have to sound out each patient before giving information, so that they answer questions appropriately for the person involved. I think that most of the nurses, as a result of their training, are of my mindset but they are conscious that many patients need to be protected on the knowledge front. My sense is that despite being asked direct questions the doctors themselves hold back information or try to sugar-coat it from habit. This is frustrating in the extreme and I have had to do a lot of my own research.

Travel and Reading
We had a lovely visit with our friends Janet and Chris a couple of weekends ago. They live about three hours east of Vancouver in Merritt, a small town where the pace is slow and the weather very enjoyable. I was delighted to find that Chris had been struggling through Thinking Fast and Slow and has obviously picked up much more from it than I have. He had all sorts of things to discuss about it but admitted that it was heavy going. I understand President Obama has also read it – would love to hear his views but don’t want to distract him from other more pressing matters at hand!

We normally have one ant hill location in our garden but this year we had at least two others as well. I understand from a friend in Perthshire that the ants have been particularly bad there as well. Something is up!

On the two nights after chemo I sleep in the spare room as I am totally wired with the drugs, don’t sleep well and am up often! The other night I heard a lot of banging around and it sounded as if someone was trying to break in either to our house or a neighbour’s house. I looked out of the window to see two baby racoons and a mother racoon (well, it might have been a father – it is 2012 after all) playing on my hammock! They were having a ball and causing it to swing around and bang the cross bars against the frame. Their hearing is very keen. I only pulled back the curtain but they noticed me watching, but figuring I was no danger they just kept playing.

Thanks for the flowers and gifts and encouraging emails. It always great to hear from you but particularly so these days.