September is ovarian cancer awareness month

Published on Wed, Sep 16, 2009
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September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Three years ago, Pete Kremen, Whatcom County Executive, and the Whatcom County Council issued their first proclamation designating the month of September as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in Whatcom County. 

This is the third year the County has joined other counties, states and the United States in issuing an official proclamation.  We are grateful to them for bringing ovarian cancer awareness to our community.

President Barack Obama, whose mother died of ovarian cancer, writes in the White House Proclamation for 2009, “I encourage citizens, government agencies, private businesses, nonprofit organizations, and other interested groups to join in activities that will increase awareness of what Americans can do to prevent and control ovarian cancer.”
“Talking about this disease at the national level is essential because diagnosing it is so difficult.  September is our opportunity to significantly increase awareness across the United States and ultimately, help save women’s lives,” explains Judith Abrams, President of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

As an ovarian cancer survivor, I have a personal interest in educating women about ovarian cancer.  In June 2006, I was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer, after being misdiagnosed for at least 5 years.  Had I been diagnosed sooner, I might not have been facing a possible death sentence.  I am currently in treatment for the fourth time in three years.

I promised myself that I would dedicate myself to promoting ovarian cancer awareness, so that other women might not have to face what I, and too many others, have experienced.  I did my first Ovarian Cancer Awareness presentation in October 2007 and continue to speak to groups of women wherever and whenever I am invited. 

I also educate nursing students at both Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College about ovarian cancer.

In July, “Team Bellingham” raised over $3,000 for the Swedish Summerun, an annual event in Seattle for the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research.  The event raised more than $500,000 and 100 percent of the proceeds goes directly to fund research. 

Last month, at another fundraising event that raised $350,000 for research, I was honored to receive the Rivkin Center’s 2009 “Courage for Life” award for my work in promoting Ovarian Cancer Awareness.

Ovarian cancer, considered a chronic illness, is the deadliest of the gynecologic cancers.  Because there is no reliable routine screening tool, women and their health care providers must be aware of the symptoms that are often undiagnosed or misinterpreted because they resemble other health problems. 

A frequent misdiagnosis is irritable bowel syndrome.  In a survey of 1,700 women, 36 percent had been initially given a wrong diagnosis and 12 percent were told it was all in their heads.

It is important for women to be aware of the symptoms and to see their doctors if they have symptoms nearly every day for more than a few weeks.
• Bloating or increased abdominal size.
• Pelvic or abdominal pain.
• Difficulty eating and/or feeling full quickly.
• Urinary frequency or urgency.

Other symptoms include unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, low back or leg pain, persistent indigestion, gas, or nausea, unexplained weight gain or loss, and abnormal vaginal bleeding.

Risk factors include family or personal history of ovarian, breast or colon cancer, not bearing children, increasing age, and Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

About 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are expected in the United States this year and more than15,000 women will die of this deadly disease.  In Washington State approximately one woman will die every day.  80% of women are not diagnosed until late stage, 55 percent will die within five years, and breast and ovarian cancers are related – at risk for one, at risk for the other. 

With symptom recognition, it is hoped that women will be better informed and that medical professionals will be more likely to diagnose early enough to reduce the statistics and save lives.  When ovarian cancer is detected early, over 90 percent of women survive. 

Awareness is the key to early diagnosis and survival.  Know the symptoms – Share the knowledge!  The life you could save, may be your own!

Linda Adler works with the Ovarian and Breast Cancer Alliance of Washington State, Survivors Teaching Students, and the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Awareness.  For additional information or to arrange a speaking engagement, contact Linda at 360/714-8905 or email