There’s no question that Lourdes C. was meant for motherhood. After meeting her husband Pete when she was just a senior in high school, they married and soon welcomed children to their family. Now, her four children, Dominic, Patty, Estella and Lucia, have given her 13 grandchildren and 6 great-grandkids, with another on the way.
“From the day [your children] are born your world changes. Your choices and decisions are based on what is best for them,” explains Lourdes. “I chose Mother’s Day as a reminder for my annual exams because no matter how old your children are, they will always need you. They are my number one reason to stay healthy.”
For many years, Lourdes scheduled annual exams during the month of May as a commitment to her children. By keeping Mother’s Day in mind, she never neglected to schedule them and never forgot an appointment. That’s why in May of 2018, she was shocked to find out she had large tumor that hadn’t been detected just a year before.
Based on Lourdes’ family history, cancer was not on her radar. None of the women in her family had ovarian or breast cancer, which can be a genetic risk factor for developing ovarian cancer.
In 2017, Lourdes was dealing with a very sick mother who was living in California while she was living in Missouri. She was also planning a job transfer and cross-country move to Reno, Nevada. Because her life was hectic at the time, her very subtle symptoms barely registered. In retrospect, she realizes that little aches and pains were likely early signs of ovarian cancer
“They began with a sharp occasional stitch in my lower abdomen which became more and more with time. I was also very tired and experienced painful intercourse. All of these symptoms I brushed off and attributed them to my menopause,” she says.
Many women who receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis don’t realize their symptoms could be signs of a bigger problem because many symptoms are very common complaints usually associated with mild stomach issues.
“Often times early ovarian cancer has subtle symptoms easily ignored or attributed to less serious concerns,” explains Natalie Godbee, DO, Gynecologic Oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), Phoenix. “When symptoms occur, they are often attributed to GI upset. If symptoms become persistent, patients should have them evaluated by their physician.”
Early symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
- Abdominal bloating, indigestion or nausea
- Changes in appetite, such as a loss of appetite or feeling full sooner
- Pressure in the pelvis or lower back
- A more frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation
- Changes in bowel movements
- Increased abdominal girth
- Tiredness or low energy
- Changes in menstruation
Because her symptoms were not severe, it was easy for Lourdes and her family to chalk them up to other things.
“In late 2017, I remember mentioning to my husband as he picked me up at the airport about my pain and he said I probably pulled something. We all made up excuses about symptoms that we should not have ignored.”
She continued to ignore symptoms until after her family was settled in Reno. Then, in May she made her annual appointment, where she met with a nurse. After explaining her symptoms, the nurse ordered a pelvic ultrasound, which showed a grapefruit-sized tumor on her right ovary. In shock with the news, Lourdes persisted to find out more information. She had lab work done and learned her CA-125, a protein found in the blood, was elevated to 186. When these protein levels are elevated, it can be a sign of ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal cancer.
The following week, Lourdes contacted CTCA®; she flew to CTCA Phoenix and met with Dr. Godbee and her team. Dr. Godbee recounts meeting Lourdes: “From the first visit, [Lourdes] kept a positive outlook on her diagnosis. She has been able to spread her sunshine to those around her—family and other patients.”
Under the care of Dr. Godbee and a team of experts, Lourdes had a hysterectomy followed by 18 rounds of chemotherapy. Now, she continues with maintenance chemotherapy every three weeks. Throughout treatment, her most significant side effect has been pain. Her team at CTCA helped her get the pain under control. Though her pain is less now, she still does experience it, along with fatigue.
Despite the side effects, Lourdes is hopeful and optimistic. Her labs continue to move in the right direction.
Screening for ovarian cancer
Lourdes is now an advocate for early detection; she constantly reminds women of the importance of paying attention to their bodies and caring for themselves.
Based on her experience, Dr. Godbee says that Lourdes isn’t alone in her mission. “Most ovarian cancers are diagnosed in older women. These women then feel it is their duty and responsibility to be sure their daughters are knowledgeable of the cancer and stay up to date with screening exams.”
“If you are feeling something out of the ordinary for you, tell your doctor,” Lourdes urges. “This is why I am adamant in sharing my experience. You must pay attention to your body and not take for granted that a simple pap smear is a tell-all exam.”
Because ovarian cancer symptoms may not be present for many women, Dr. Godbee stresses that all women should have annual pelvic exams.
Women who have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer should consult their physicians to determine the best course for screening. Dr. Godbee explains, “For women who are at a higher risk of ovarian cancer due to genetic mutations, they should have a pelvic ultrasound and routinely check their CA-125.”
“Motherhood means everything to me.”
In March, Lourdes’ mother passed away, which makes her realize how meaningful having a mother and being a mother is to her.
“I cannot tell you how much I miss my mother. Although she started suffering from dementia and repeating herself, I would call her daily,” Lourdes says. “I know what an important role I play in my children’s lives, and now in my grandchildren’s. I am a best friend to my three daughters and speak to them almost daily.”
After she was diagnosed, her oldest daughter Patty gave her a card with a note that Lourdes has kept since:
To my Mommy,
I love you so much and I’m just glad God brought you here to get better. I don’t have to tell you to be strong, because I know you already are. The strongest Mom ever! You can do anything and after all I’ve put you through, this is nothing.
Mothers’ Day is every day and I am lucky you are my Mom. My true and honest best friend, I love you,
Lourdes says, “The best Mother’s Day gift is my children. They are a gift from God.”
No case is typical. You should not expect to experience these results.