Ovarian cancer survivor works to raise awareness of disease

Ovarian cancer survivor Nancy Long at the 2016 Run/Walk to Break the Silence.
Ovarian cancer survivor Nancy Long at the 2016 Run/Walk to Break the Silence.

Nancy Long initially dismissed her early symptoms of ovarian cancer, chalking each one up to something else entirely.

Fatigue? Indigestion? The Annapolis woman thought life stresses were to blame.

A colonoscopy came back clear. But when she began to have horrible abdominal bloating, she knew something wasn’t right.

She had a pelvic sonogram, and her disease was so far advanced that her ovaries weren’t even visible. A blood test then detected elevated levels of CA-125, a protein in the blood that may indicate ovarian cancer and other kinds of cancer.

Nancy was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer, meaning it had spread outside of the ovaries and into other organs. She was in surgery within a week, followed by 18 months of chemotherapy.

Now at age 70, she has been cancer free for 13 years.

“I should have known the signs and symptoms,” she says, as at that time she was a nurse practitioner at a gynecologist’s office.

The problem with ovarian cancer, though, is that the symptoms — constipation, tiredness, bloating, back pain, urinary tract issues — can so often be symptoms of something else entirely. There’s also no effective screening test for ovarian cancer.

Now, as a longtime volunteer with the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s Central Maryland chapter, Nancy is committed to raising awareness of this form of cancer that strikes 1 in 75 women. Last year, 14,000 women died of ovarian cancer in the U.S.

“I wish every physician would talk to their patients about this,” she says.

Nancy is one of the organizers of the chapter’s 5K Run/3K Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer, now in its 8th year. This year’s run/walk takes place on Sept. 17 at Westfield Annapolis Mall.

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Since 2009, Nancy has seen the event grow from 400 people in Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, to 2,000 participants.

She’s hoping the event raises at least $200,000 this year. The chapter uses that money to fund its three main goals: Awareness, help for survivors and research.

Judeth Davis, a nurse navigator with AAMC’s DeCesaris Cancer Institute, says Nancy is a tireless advocate for ovarian cancer awareness and education.

“She leads our chapter of the NOCC with passion and relentlessness,” Judeth says. “She provides literature about early detection and warning signs, and she offers support to countless women and their loved ones as they face this challenge.”

Nancy says many myths surround ovarian cancer. For instance, many women think their yearly physical would alert them if something was wrong. But the truth is, a Pap smear won’t detect ovarian cancer.

Others also believe an ovarian cancer diagnosis is a death sentence. And while it is the most deadly gynecological cancer, Nancy says patients still have reason to be hopeful.

“I’ve been alive and well for 13 years,” she says.

Still, fewer than 20 percent of ovarian cancer cases are detected early, when the prognosis is best. So it’s best to always talk to your doctor about your health concerns, no matter how insignificant you may think they are.

“I wish I hadn’t taken it upon myself to self-diagnose,” Nancy says.

The deadline to register for the run/walk is Sept. 13. When you register, choose AAMC Avengers to join AAMC’s team.

The Gynecologic Oncology Center at Anne Arundel Medical Center offers treatments for ovarian cancer and other gynecologic cancers. To learn more, call 443-481-3356.

 

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