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Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 12:17 am

Ovarian cancer awareness grows

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum was lit up in teal last month in honor of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The month was dedicated to raising awareness about ovarian cancer and honoring those women who have lost their lives and who are still fighting this deadly disease.

This was the first time a community in downstate Illinois has stood up and recognized women with ovarian cancer. For too long, ovarian cancer has gone unrecognized. It took one woman to change that.

I recently lost a dear friend to ovarian cancer. She was only 63 years old and had fought this disease for seven years without achieving remission. She did not deserve to die.

I miss her dearly. It is because of her that I am an ovarian cancer advocate. After my diagnosis with ovarian and endometrial cancer in 2014, she told me that the reason my cancer was caught early was so that I could reach out and help other women facing the same diagnosis.

Each year there are 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed in the United States; 14,000 women will die from it. Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women, and accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.

Yet it remains underfunded and understudied, as are all gynecological cancers. Research dollars go towards breast cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer. Gynecological cancers are often referred to as orphan cancers. We need more money for research. We need more money to find a cure, not only for ovarian cancer, but for all gynecological cancers – cervical, vulvar, vaginal, endometrial and ovarian.

This year marks my third-year anniversary of being cancer-free. I am one of the lucky ones in that my cancer was diagnosed early. If ovarian cancer is caught early, it has a 93 percent survival rate. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of women are diagnosed at an early stage. By the time it is normally found, it has spread outside the ovaries and the survival rate falls to 27 percent. Overall, ovarian cancer has a 46 percent survival rate.

The statistics are sobering. One in 75 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her lifetime; a woman’s lifetime risk of dying from ovarian cancer is 1 in 100. This cancer does not discriminate. It affects women of all ages, from all walks of life, regardless of nationality. The median age at diagnosis is 65. It is more prevalent in white women than in African-Americans.

People don’t want to talk about gynecological cancers. But we need to. Women need to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. If you experience bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, changes in appetite or feeling full quickly or a more frequent or urgent need to urinate, see your doctor. These symptoms can mimic other issues but it is important for women to see their doctor, especially if they have experienced these symptoms for two or more weeks or if they are new. The life you save may be your own. Remember a pap smear does not detect ovarian cancer.

It is important that we educate ourselves, our doctors, our loved ones. This disease steals too many lives too soon. Donate money to fund research into finding new treatments for ovarian cancer. Just do something. We all need to work together. I am doing my part so that no more women die on my watch.

I am so proud of my community for recognizing and honoring us.

Roberta Codemo of Springfield is a freelance journalist and contributor to Illinois Times. She is an ovarian cancer advocate and was recently selected as a citizen reviewer for the Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Research Program.

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