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Eighteen months ago I had a normal pelvic exam. Twelve months later I thought I had stomach flu. I went to my family doctor who thought I had appendicitis. He sent me to the emergency room for a CAT scan. The CAT scan showed a healthy appendix but a large mass on my right ovary. Two days later I had my ovaries, uterus, omentum, and pelvic lymph nodes removed. The diagnosis was ovarian cancer, stage 3.

I have always been healthy. At the ripe old age of 57 I had never spent a night in a hospital and never had an abnormal pelvic exam. I did suffer from fatigue and constipation, and the related bloating, but what woman my age doesn’t suffer from these things?

Ovarian cancer is a stealth killer. Its symptoms are similar in type and scope to other less serious conditions. These symptoms include abdominal swelling or bloating, pelvic pressure or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and/or having to urinate urgently or often. If you have any of these symptoms and they persist for a few weeks—see your gynocologist. There is no screening test for ovarian cancer. What saved me was knowing what was normal for me and what wasn’t. What wasn’t normal for me was a persistent pain in the right side of my lower abdomen. It could have been appendicitis, but wasn’t.

Since my surgery I have had a PET scan that showed a soft tissue nodule in my lower right abdomen. Chemotherapy started April 19. Hopefully the chemo has eradicated the nodule. I can laugh and I can cry. I cry because of the horrible side effects that come with chemo. I laugh because with every horrible side effect I know its working. My eyebrows started growing which caused severe anxiety. Was the chemo working? Of course it is. I only have to look at my miserable blood levels.  I have one more treatment to get through. Beyond that I don’t know what’s next other than living the rest of my life to its fullest.

According to the American Cancer Society about 21,990 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2011.  Of those women, 15,460 will die from the disease. Early detection is critical to survival rates. Because there is no test for ovarian cancer, knowing what’s normal for you and what’s not is critical.

Editor’s Note: Elyse Galik is the President, founder, and Chief Executive Officer of Communicate By Design, Inc. of Sterling, Va. She is a talented designer and gifted communicator who specializes in using her experience as a training and marketing professional to help organizations enhance both their internal and external  communications.