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When vague symptoms suggested ovarian cancer, she took note

Date published: 8/22/2004

I'M SURE MY gynecologist thought I was the typical hypochondriac when I walked into her office and proclaimed, "I have ovarian cancer."

After all, symptoms can be maddeningly vague. The bloat- ing, gastric upsets and pelvic pain can mimic dozens of other problems, and doctors often look for more benign causes of the problems or may dismiss the complaints altogether.

That's why ovarian cancer has been called the silent killer. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 25,000 women will be diagnosed and 16,000 will die from the disease this year, making it the deadliest of all the gynecological cancers and the fifth-leading cause of death in women.

They say the symptoms whisper, so listen. I really, really wanted to be wrong about what I thought I might have. But I wasn't. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June 2003, at age 45, more than six months after I first experienced symptoms.

I wish I had not become the family expert on this disease, but as Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer 15 years ago, used to say, "It's always something!" Prior to June 2003, about all I knew about ovarian cancer was that Gilda had it, she experienced bloating and she died.

Still, knowing those few facts probably saved my life. Even so, I was diagnosed with advanced stage-3 cancer. Cancer can be diagnosed at one of four stages, depending how much the cancer has spread. Those with early stages of the disease have a 70 percent to 80 percent chance of surviving. Once the cancer is stage 3 or 4, that statistic plunges to 20 percent to 30 percent survival.

Unfortunately, the long time it takes for the disease to be diagnosed means that the cancer is found at more advanced stages in about 70 percent of the women with the disease. In my case, I had complained for more than six months, almost on a monthly basis, to my family doctor of various aches, pains and what was thought to be kidney stones and a bladder infection.

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