Ovarian cancer: Common symptom led to serious diagnosis

Janice Daniels’ top priority in September 2015 was caring for her 96-year-old mother; dealing with a few symptoms that she thought were more of a nuisance than a serious concern was not.

“I was constipated, and all the usual things did not work,” said Daniels, who called her primary care doctor, hoping to get the issue resolved.

 He examined her but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary and just told her to take another laxative. She persisted, however, telling him she’d already taken that route.

He mentioned doing an x-ray and if that showed something, then maybe doing an MRI, she said. She pressed him for the MRI.

“I called the next morning, and they said they found a small cyst,” she said.

Thinking that it wasn’t anything major, she expected to hear from a surgeon who would schedule something in a few weeks. Instead, she got a call from the office of Dr. Bunja Rungruang, a gynecologic oncologist at the Georgia Cancer Center, and was in her office that afternoon.

“Dr. Rungruang said there was a tumor the size of a small watermelon on my left ovary, and she was pretty sure it was cancer,” said Daniels.

Ovarian cancer symptoms often overlooked

A woman’s chance of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is one in 78, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Better ways to screen for ovarian cancer are being researched but currently there are no reliable screening tests. Hopefully, improvements in screening tests will eventually lead to fewer deaths from ovarian cancer,” the cancer society site said.

Courtesy Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance

Its symptoms can be confused with other conditions. Some symptoms can include bloating, feeling full quickly, gas, back pain and constipation. It’s been sometimes called a “silent killer” because it often doesn’t get diagnosed until the late stages, according to a 2017 post at Harvard University Health’s website; however, others, such as a 2022 post at the University of Washington’s website, argue it’s not silent at all, just not always properly diagnosed.

Looking back, Daniels realized that she missed other signs. She brushed off her expanding waistline as the “middle aged spread,” and chalked it up to the aging process.

Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, according to the American Cancer Society; however, it accounts “for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.”

September is ovarian cancer awareness month, and the ribbon people wear to signify it is teal.

Daniels’ diagnosis didn’t bring her fear

When doctors diagnosed Daniels, the cancer was stage 2B, she said.

According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, a Stage 2B diagnosis means the cancer has not spread beyond the pelvis, and women have a 74% chance of a 5-year survival.

She said she’s glad she pushed her doctor to do the MRI.

“Everybody gets gas; everyone gets constipation, bloating and heartburn,” she said.

 But if a woman thinks something is wrong with her body, she should push for her health.

 “We tend to everybody but ourselves,” she said.

The word “cancer” didn’t strike fear in Daniels when she first heard it.  She said that surprised her in a way. She considered not having that response as a blessing and believes God helped her through the entire process.

 Her doctor immediately explained to Daniels her options — either a partial or total hysterectomy. Daniels said she asked her doctor what she would do and when Rhunruang said she’d do a full hysterectomy if she was in that position, Daniels opted for that.

“Three days later, I was in surgery,” she said.

Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance

After the surgery, she underwent about six months of chemotherapy with about three weeks in between each session. That was enough time to start feeling better before she had to get another treatment, she said.

She also started going to a support group.

 At first, she resisted. She didn’t want to be part of a “pity party,” but it wasn’t like that at all. Being around people who were going through the same thing she was experiencing gave her a boost.

 “It’s one of the best things people can do, interacting with others going through the same thing,” she said.

She focused on healing in other ways, not just chemotherapy.

“I concentrated on my attitude,” she said. “My attitude will determine my altitude. I diverted my mind when my body was miserable.”

She also kept active, taking part at the YMCA in LiveStrong, an exercise program designed for cancer patients.

And her faith played a large role, she said.

She went into remission after the chemo. She did not require any radiation.

The desire to give back leads Daniels to write book

“Once I went into remission, I knew I needed to give back,” she said.

She’s continued to be part of the support group because it helped her so much and she wants to provide hope for others. She said it was encouraging when she was undergoing treatment to hear of other women who’d been diagnosed years before and were doing well.

She’s also volunteered at the Georgia Cancer Center’s infusion center. She said she felt blessed by the care she received through her doctor and other health professionals.

With hopes of reaching outside the Augusta area, she wrote a book about her experience — and not just her cancer journey.

Her life has been full of miracles, so she called the book, cancer – A MIRACLE!: My Life of Miracles.

“It’s cancer with a small c,” she said, not wanting to give the word any additional power.

While the cancer part of her story is an important part of the book, she said her life has been blessed with other incidences that have she considers miracles and those are equally important in her life story.

Her book is available on Amazon.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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One thought on “Ovarian cancer: Common symptom led to serious diagnosis

  1. The article on Ovarian cancer was great-very informative and encouraging women and men to be self advocates! No one cares more about you than you. If you’re getting an intuition or feeling about a test to work up what’s going on with you, please stick with your gut and push to have the most complete work up, within reason, that you can have. Thank you for this amazing article!

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