Before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago, Charlene Conklin had felt sick for about a year but didn’t know why. She tried to find out what was wrong, seeking medical attention, but when she described her symptoms, no one had answers for her. Now that she knows what ovarian cancer symptoms often look like, she wants to shout them from the rooftops so other women will get diagnosed sooner and have a chance to receive treatment earlier.
Charlene, a Walden resident, spent about a year dealing with discomfort she couldn’t figure out. She felt bloated all the time and had difficulty eating or sleeping. She also felt a burning sensation in her abdominal area. Throughout all of this, she managed to keep working full time, while seeing doctors and trying to get answers.
Finally, in September of 2017 she underwent a CAT scan which was the first step in learning she had Stage 3C ovarian cancer. She was quickly sent to Westchester County Medical Center where she underwent surgery.
Following the surgery, Charlene needed further treatment. She chose to go to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts for chemotherapy so she could stay with her brother and his wife, who also drove her to treatments and took care of her for 4 months. Charlene says they were a godsend to her, as was her boss Mark Sarna.
In May of 2018 Charlene was told her cancer was in remission; however, that wasn’t the end of her story. She has now experienced two recurrences of her cancer, most recently this past August, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy for the 3rd time.
Charlene still can’t believe it took so long to diagnose her cancer. She says “I knew something was wrong, but I never thought I had cancer.” She knows now that if her cancer had been diagnosed sooner, at an earlier stage, her situation may have been better overall.
According to the American Cancer Society, when ovarian cancer is found early, about 94% of women live longer than five years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, only about 20% of ovarian cancers are found at an early stage. And it’s estimated that about 22,530 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019, although the vast majority are diagnosed at a later stage, when treatment is more challenging.
Why is early detection of ovarian cancer so difficult? To start, there’s no screening test for the disease. The Pap test women undergo with routine gynecological exams only screens for cervical cancer. And as Charlene learned, the symptoms that do occur are often mistaken (by women and even by doctors) for other, less serious ailments.
The key to early diagnosis is learning the symptoms, listening carefully to your body, and advocating for yourself. The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition advises women to watch for the following potential signs, and if they persist for more than two weeks, see a physician:
• Pelvic or abdominal pain
• Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
• Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often.
Other possible symptoms include: fatigue, upset stomach or heartburn, back pain, pain during sex, constipation or menstrual changes. Of course, having one or more of these symptoms is not always a sign of cancer. If symptoms continue, however, women need to be on alert. The Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance advises: See your doctor, preferably a gynecologist, if you have these symptoms more than 12 times during the course of one month and the symptoms are new or unusual for you. And…. ask about the possibility of ovarian cancer.
In addition to sharing her story, Charlene plans to attend the 25th Annual Support-A-Walk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer on October 6, presented by Support Connection, a not-for-profit organization that provides counseling and other support services, free of charge, to people affected by breast and ovarian cancer. The event is an important fundraiser that makes these services possible. Because Charlene has received help from the organization, she plans to attend the Support-A-Walk, and wants to create t-shirts and signs with messages about ovarian cancer. In spite of her own health challenges, Charlene is making it her mission to speak out about this disease in any way she can.
ABOUT OVARIAN CANCER: To learn more: American Cancer Society, National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance
ABOUT SUPPORT CONNECTION: Support Connection offers help and support to anyone impacted by ovarian or breast cancer. Services, all free of charge, include: Personalized counseling and resource referral by toll-free telephone, email and in person; Monthly support groups, including two that meet by national toll-free teleconference; Educational programs including national webinars; wellness programs and social gatherings where women can connect and share with one another. Learn more at www.supportconnection.org.
ABOUT THE SUPPORT-A-WALK: The 25th Annual Support-A-Walk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer will take place on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019 (rain or shine) at FDR Park in Yorktown Heights, NY. It is a 3-mile walkathon held to bring attention to the needs of people affected by breast and ovarian cancer. Proceeds fund Support Connection’s free, year-round support services for people affected by breast and ovarian cancer. Each year, people travel from across the Hudson Valley and beyond to take part in this inspiring and uplifting community event. To learn more or to donate, visit www.supportconnection.org/support-a-walk, or contact: email@example.com or 914-962-6402.