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Patient tips I’m an ovarian cancer survivor. What I want other women to know about the ‘silent’ disease:

I’m an ovarian cancer survivor. What I want other women to know about the ‘silent’ disease:

In 2020, Andrea S. was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer. The mom and former nurse was 56 years old and knew little about the disease. As a breast cancer survivor, Andrea couldn’t believe she was facing another devastating diagnosis. The experience inspired her to start a nonprofit, Harts of Teal, dedicated to raising awareness about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. Here, Andrea outlines the advice she most often shares with other women.

  1. Consider a second (or third) opinion before making a final decision on your treatment plan. As a nurse of over 20 years, I’ve worked with a number of doctors, and I know firsthand they all have different approaches to treating the same disease. After I received my ovarian cancer diagnosis, I sought out three different gynecologic oncologists before I settled on the care team that felt right for me. Feeling comfortable with your care team is vital. It could be as simple as a nurse who made you feel really heard or a doctor who took 10 extra minutes to answer your significant other’s questions.
  2. Advocate for yourself, because you know your body best. Between October 2019 and January 2020, I flagged symptoms to my gynecologist three separate times. On the surface, my symptoms seemed “normal” for a 56-year-old woman—I had occasional bloating, intermittent nausea and, at times, it was hard to have a bowel movement. Because I was active and wasn’t considered high risk, none of these symptoms raised a red flag for my team. On January 17, 2020, I felt a lump in my left groin area. My doctor then conducted a pelvic ultrasound, revealing bi-lateral cysts on each ovary.
  3. Don’t blame yourself for not going to the doctor sooner. I hear the same phrase from a lot from women—“I should have known! I should have said something! I should have…” Don’t beat yourself up over the “should haves.” Ovarian cancer symptoms are vague and can be applied to so many things. I haven’t talked to one woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer who thought her symptoms were life-threatening or even related to ovarian cancer. It’s why my work with Harts of Teal, a nonprofit aimed at educating others about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, is deeply personal. I want other women to know what I didn’t. Along with my Harts of Teal co-founder and fellow ovarian cancer survivor, we’ve told so many women about the signs and symptoms of this terrible disease. I’d say more than 80 percent of women I talk to aren’t aware of the ovarian cancer warning signs before we share our stories.
  4. Your experience is yours—and yours alone—when it comes to cancer. Although you may have the same diagnosis as someone else, remember that each person responds differently to surgery, treatment, side effects, etc. Don’t compare your cancer journey with others’. In my experience, it only breeds discouragement and anxiety.
  5. Don’t feel pressured to update everyone in your life (especially on social media) or justify every decision you make about your care. Everyone has an opinion or story and will likely share it with you, especially when it comes to a cancer diagnosis. It can feel exhausting to update every long-lost high school friend in addition to fighting for your life, so don’t do it if it makes you feel even more stressed. Trust your care team and, most importantly, trust yourself.
  6. It’s OK to grieve a difficult diagnosis, but try not to stay in a dark, negative place. No one expects to be diagnosed with cancer. When you are, it can feel like you’re at the starting line of a marathon with no shoes or prior training. For me, this meant leaning into my faith. I truly believe God was with me every step of the way throughout this process, and that gave me so much hope for the future. Keeping God and my faith in the forefront helped keep me centered.
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