FRIDAY FREE DAYS WITH GUEST AUTHOR KAREN INGALLS
Welcome to Friday Free Days with guest author Karen Ingalls. Karen and I met on Twitter through #RRBC. #RRBC is the hashtag for Rave Reviews Book Club, a growing and very active group of readers and writers.
Initially, Karen asked me to be a guest author for her blog, Mind, Pen, and Spirit, where I posted an article called Tough Writing. I wanted to reciprocate because an author’s blog is prime real estate on the internet. And I’m happy to say, Karen agreed to post about her experience as a survivor of cancer.
Today’s Friday Free Days post is informative and poignant. I hope you enjoy Karen Ingall’s honesty and insight.
OUR LADY PARTS by Karen Ingalls
Many of us women do not know what are our lady parts or medically known as the gynecologic area, which is just below the waist. It is the area from which we have many hormones released, menstrual periods, have sex, conceive and give birth, and menopause. It is our womanhood and vitally important.
There are women who will not talk about this area of the body to closest friends, family, or even their physicians if there is some unusual pain, swelling, discharge, or discomfort. Are we women embarrassed, uncomfortable, or ashamed of this beautiful part of our bodies? If rape, abuse, or incest has occurred then the shame is even greater though the woman is not responsible for what happened.
Serious illnesses or cancers can develop in our lady parts area. There is endometriosis, cervical, ovarian, and uterine cancers, cysts, fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome, genital tract infections, to name just a few.
Endometriosis: occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus, grows outside the uterus. It is very painful and infertility might become an issue. Ovarian cancer occurs at a higher rate for those who have or had endometriosis.
Uterine cancer: often endometrial cancer is called uterine cancer. Using hormone replacement therapy may increase your risk. Taking birth control pills decreases the risk.
Cervical cancer: only detected by an abnormal PAP smear; a sexually transmitted disease; the HPV virus is the cause. Receiving a vaccine against the HPV is the most recommended way to prevent cervical cancer and safe sex.
I am focusing on ovarian cancer because it is the 5th leading cause of cancer related deaths in women. I am a ten-year survivor for which I feel blessed.
Ovarian cancer: If you are female you are at risk of developing ovarian cancer, no matter your age. It is diagnosed in 22,000 women in the U.S. alone each year and claims the lives of 14,000 women. There have been young girls in their pre-teens or teens as well as women in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s who have been diagnosed. Post-menopausal women are equally at risk. The mean age is 54.
Ovarian cancer CANNOT be detected from a PAP smear (only cervical); there is only a blood test (CA125) that can be a marker but only 70% of the time., and getting a transvaginal ultrasound.
The symptoms are often vague and mimic other disorders or diseases so diagnosis can be difficult. The symptoms are:
- Painful abdomen or pelvic area
- Abdominal bloating (the most common)
- Mid to lower back pain
- Indigestion or feeling full quickly
- Change in urinary habits; frequency or urgency
- Change in bowel habits (frequency or appearance)
- Painful intercourse
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual vaginal discharge
IF ONE OR MORE OF THESE SYMPTOMS LAST FOR MORE THAN TWO WEEKS, PLEASE SEE YOUR GYNECOLOGIST AND REQUEST (POSSIBLY DEMAND) AN ULTRASOUND AND THE CA125 BLOOD TEST.
Too many of us have ignored, downplayed, or self-diagnosed by thinking that “it is just a backache,” “I have not been eating right,” “my stomach is bigger because I am getting older or I am overeating,” and so on. The earlier the diagnosis is made, the greater the chance for survival.
There are certain risk factors that one needs to be aware of. Knowing your family health history is very important.
- Personal or family history of ovarian, breast, uterine, cervical, or colon cancer
- Having never been pregnant (however, taking birth control pills for at least 5 years decreases the incidence by 50%)
- BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- Ashkenazi or Eastern European Jewish heritage
- Age (increasing risk), especially after menopause
I think of Gilda Radner, who ignored her symptoms and the doctors sent her from one specialist to another before the ovarian cancer was diagnosed one year later. It was too late for her to survive. I call this the “Gilda Radner syndrome” and I pray that each of you will listen to your bodies, respond to the symptoms if they persist, and not let embarrassment, fear or doubt keep you from being proactive.
When I think of the strides we have made with breast cancer over the years, I am hopeful we can also do the same for ovarian cancer. There was a time when women never talked about their breasts and menstrual periods were a forbidden subject. There was no such thing as breast self-examinations or mammograms. Research was very limited until the Susan B. Komen Foundation actively promoted awareness and research in 1982. Today women openly speak about their journeys with breast cancer.
Did you know that the following celebrities had ovarian cancer? Kathy Bates, Coretta Scott King, Dinah Shore, Loretta Young, Carol Channing, Winnie Palmer (first wife of Arnold Palmer), Angelina Jolie’s mother, Patrick Dempsey’s mother, Shannon Miller, Pierce Brosnan’s wife and daughter, to name just a few. We need celebrities to speak out. The general public will listen to them.
Physicians and nurses need to be more knowledgeable about this silent and too often deadly disease. I am a retired registered nurse and I received no training in any gynecologic disease, except a few sentences about cervical cancer. The medical community must start thinking, “Could this be ovarian cancer?” first and rule it out with the appropriate tests before referring the woman to a specialist.
We women also need to be our own advocates. Too often we feel intimidated by our physician and quickly accept what they say. It is time that we demand and expect more information, tests, and follow-through. No one knows our body than we do.
This article is not intended to frighten, but only to inform the woman. Where there is information, there can be awareness. When awareness is raised, then proactivity is a possibility and the more proactive we are, the better our health and the greater chance of finding any cancer or disease early, which can mean survival.
I have devoted these past ten years to advocating for awareness and supporting other ovarian cancer survivors. Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I welcome any comments or questions. You can reach me at [email protected].
Links for ovarian cancer organizations: search state by state, and country by country for groups in your area. Here are some national sites: ovarian.org/, https://ocrfa.org, https://panfoundation.org ›, www.foundationforwomenscancer.org/types-of-gynecologic-cancers/ovarian/.
My thanks to Susan Wingate for giving me this opportunity to share information about our lady parts.
ABOUT KAREN INGALLS
Karen Ingalls is a retired Registered Nurse with a Master’s Degree in Human Development. She is the author of the nationally award-winning book, Outshine: An Ovarian Cancer Memoir, which provides information about this lesser known disease, and offers inspiration and hope to women and their families. To order the book go to www.amazon.com/Outshine-An-Ovarian-Cancer-Memoir. All proceeds go to ovarian cancer research.
She is a public speaker; on the Patient Leadership Council and a Patient Ambassador for the Tesaro Pharmaceutical Co., blogger, and author.
Ms. Ingalls has a weekly blog about health/wellness, spirituality, relationships, and cancer at www.outshineovariancancer.blogspot.com. Become a follower and receive a complementary paperback copy of Outshine. Be sure to email ([email protected]) me at that time so I might send you the book.
LEARN MORE ABOUT KAREN INGALLS
Thank you for reading today’s installment of Friday Free Days with guest author Karen Ingalls. I hope you enjoyed the post.