September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in the United States.
Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that first forms in the ovaries and may spread. According to the American Cancer Society, close to 20,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2023 and nearly 13,000 women will die from the disease this year.
Like all cancers, the ripple effects of ovarian cancer extend beyond the people who receive the diagnosis. It affects their family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. We believe that Community is Stronger than Cancer. We are a relentless ally for anyone who strives to manage the realities of this disruptive disease. So no one faces cancer alone.
Chocolate cake and pinot noir saved my life.
I was 48 years old in October 2015. For several months, I had been experiencing some unusual symptoms like bloating, lower back and abdominal pain, spotting after sex, and having to pee all the time. I attributed all of these symptoms to perimenopause, and thought I would bring them up at my next appointment with my gynocologist in January.
But, I overindulged on a retreat at Flathead Lake. I ate and drank a little more than I should have and started feeling very uncomfortable. I went to my room, thinking I just needed to sleep off the feeling. A few hours later, the pain in my abdomen was excrutiating. A nurse who was also on the retreat suggested I go to the emergency room in Kalispell. After an ultrasound and a CT scan, a doctor told me that I had a growth on my ovary and suggested I see my gyno in Missoula right away. Before I could even make that appointment, she was on the phone with a gynecological oncologist in Billings.
Ten days later, I had a total abdominal hysterectomy including both ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and appendix. This tour of medical facilities in three Montana cities resulted in a single diagnosis: Stage 2 mucinous ovarian cancer.
I am one of the lucky ones. It is rare that ovarian cancer is diagnosed at Stage 1 or 2, precisely because the early warning signs can be attributed to many other things. What woman hasn’t experienced bloating? What mom hasn’t had some incontinence? What middle aged person hasn’t had lower back pain occasionally?
Following six rounds of chemo, I have been cancer free for five years. When I was still bald from treatment, I decided I wanted to do something to encourage other women to take these symptoms seriously, but in a way that wouldn’t be terrifying. I enlisted a make-up artist and a photographer friend to help me take some silly pictures to help record this moment in my life and share my story. It isn’t easy to look in the mirror and see Uncle Fester or Dr. Evil or Gru; family and friends helped me keep my sense of humor through cancer treatment. I believe Cancer Support Community can help others through their diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship.
Molly Stockdale is a Missoula resident and the Executive Director at Traveler’s Rest Connection.