As my long time readers are aware, I consider myself an expert at navigating the healthcare system. I’ve developed my talents out of sheer necessity. After you’ve had someone chase you with a specimen cup of what may (or may not) be your urine, or gotten a call that the lab lost the eight tubes of blood they drew last week, you stop depending on doctors and nurses to be perfect and start looking out for yourself.
I developed these skills during my fight against hepatitis C and my spine surgeries, both of which I’ve written about in previous posts. However, my body has been cooperating with me lately. My liver and spine are both doing well and I’ve had a brief respite from spending too much time with doctors.
All this changed once my mom died of ovarian cancer nearly five months ago. (If you’re a new reader, you can read a post about the circumstances of her death here.)
Ovarian cancer has claimed a number of famous victims, such as Gilda Radner, Elizabeth Tilberis (Editor of Harper’s Bazaar) and and most recently, Coretta Scott King. After Mrs. King’s death, several papers published articles describing the disease like this one. Some also reprinted the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, which can be found here. My mother experienced most of these symptoms before her diagnosis.
After Mom died, I talked with my mother’s oncologist and my gynecologist about the steps I should take in order to lessen my own risk of contracting ovarian cancer. I started taking a low dose birth control pill under the theory that preventing ovulation reduces the chance of developing abnormal cells.
My doctors also recommended that I get a CA-125 blood test (a test for tumor markers) and a vaginal ultrasound every six months so that any abnormalities would be detected as early as possible. As with many cancers, early detection makes a huge difference in survival rates for those with ovarian cancer.
So I did. Not to get all Katie Couric on you, but here’s the proof:
Erica draws blood for the CA-125 test. She was a good sticker!
I get ready for the ultrasound. Thanks, Kim, for keeping up a light conversation to keep my mind off things during the procedure, which was painless.
Thankfully, my tests came back clear. The screening is something I’ll repeat twice a year for the rest of my life. If you have a reason to believe you are at risk for ovarian cancer, you should do it too.
I’ve plugged this book before, but Jerome Groopman’s Second Opinions is
a worthy read, which emphasizes the importance of trusting your own
instincts, getting second opinions, and asking questions when you’re
facing a health issue. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science
by Atul Gawande also stresses that healthcare professionals are simply
human, subject to making mistakes just like the rest of us. Both are
easy to read and understand.
I’m packing up my soapbox now!
PS- Yes, once again, I’m in my Jazzerwear. You’d think I could visit the doctor or wax my mustache in decent clothes, and maybe put on a smidge of makeup. I’ll try to do better.