September is a very reflective month for me. Not just because of back to school with my children—seeing how much they’ve grown and changed from the year before—but also because it reminds me of my mother who passed away in 2010 from ovarian cancer. Since September marks ovarian cancer awareness, I try to step into the role of generating awareness among women in my community and the workplace.
As I tie teal ribbons around trees, pass out bookmarks with symptoms printed on them and hang up signs, I’m sadly reminded of how much my mother unnecessarily suffered. I now know with early detection the survival rate can be very high, but we found out too late. I can no longer help her, but I can help others on her behalf …
My mother had all the classic “silent” symptoms—indigestion, constipation, weight gain for no reason and trouble breathing when walking up a short flight of stairs—but she wasn’t in any pain. In fact, she had visited a very trusted family doctor who suggested an antacid. It wasn’t until a long holiday weekend that we discovered the real cause.
After what she thought was severe indigestion, my mother visited the UMass emergency room on a Friday and was told she was in the wrong wing of the hospital and needed to visit the oncology group. My sister and I took to the internet to research all her symptoms and figured it out within 24 hours, knowing that the CA-125 blood test would be a strong confirmation. By that Tuesday, we knew she had ovarian cancer. Commonly referred to as the silent disease, it is often diagnosed in the late stages with a very low percentage of survival. For my mom, it was Stage III.
Fighting the Fight
My mother fought the fight for two years. She did it for her grandchildren and her children (me, my brother and my sister). Positive throughout the entire experience, she wore a matching bandana on her head to match her shirt. She was always one who dressed “in style,” and it tickled me that she didn’t let this disease take away who she really was.
Her teaching colleagues at the high school were wonderful, and our neighbors and friends would drop off food unannounced at all hours of the day. With cancer, you quickly realize it takes a village to fight the fight, and we had one. Like an air traffic controller, my sister had coordinated a schedule of caretakers during the week while I drove up on weekends to give them a break. It was an experience, to say the least.
However, in the end, it was too much. My mother died at the age of 70. She was unable to enjoy her upcoming retirement or see her eight grandchildren grow into young adults, which is the hardest part now. We miss having her at important family events and every milestone in between. She was the core of our family, and now that is lost.
Ovarian cancer affects the entire family!
Volunteering as a Tribute
I miss my mother every day. To cope, I use my energies with local volunteerism. There are two groups that I now volunteer with: Turn the Towns Teal which started in New Jersey and NOCC (National Ovarian Cancer Coalition) which hosts 5K run/walks across the country.
This Sunday (9/25), there is also an event in West Orange, and one of our clients will be sponsoring a booth.
Be Your Own Advocate
Unfortunately, there is no ovarian cancer test, but I highly recommend that women speak to their OBGYN’s, especially if there is a family history of ovarian and breast cancer. I also suggest that you click on this article for more detailed information: 7 Ovarian Cancer Facts All Women Should Know
The more you know, the better you can fight!
This blog is dedicated to my mother Cecilia.