Long Term Ovarian Cancer Survivors

Cancer_Survivors_Park_Memphis_TN By Thomas R Machnitzki (Own work)

Image courtesy of Thomas R Machnitzki (Own work)

Long term ovarian cancer survivors do exist! You may ask what defines a long-term cancer survivor? From my perspective, a long-term cancer survivor has survived more than 5 years…more than 7 years. For ovarian cancer, I set my sights on a cancer survivor who has survived 8-10 years or more.

Please realize being a cancer survivor, a survivor of any type of cancer, begins on the day of your diagnosis. The cancer survivor may be in treatment or may be beyond treatment. Once diagnosed, you are a cancer survivor!

Ovarian cancer patients will go through their treatment  for ovarian cancer. Most will triumphantly complete their treatment and graduate to living life again without the frequent needle pokes for drawing blood labs, for chemotherapy or for an image scan.When they complete their chemotherapy, they often believe they are cured. They return to their lives as they once knew them and then BAM! A recurrence hits them between their eyes. I have heard comments like, “I thought I was the one. The one who beat it”. Or I may hear, “I was feeling so good and now they tell me it’s back”.

Working at my gynecologic oncologists office, I see the story of recurrence repeat itself far more than it’s alternative – life beyond cancer treatment. Please keep in mind, it is a medical office and these women arrive seeking medical advice. So by statistics alone, more women coming to the office will be there because of the need for medical intervention. However, I do see ovarian cancer survivors living life beyond cancer. They do come to the office for a routine check-up.

I meet women at the office surviving their diagnosis of ovarian cancer 7, 8, 10, 20 and last week…30 years! I am thrilled to know they exist. I am thrilled to learn from them. So rather than ask the question, if these women can do it, why can’t I?…I tell myself, if these women can do it, so can I!

Last week I attended several events, 4 to be exact, regarding cancer and some specifically about ovarian cancer. The first event had 350 in attendance. It was an event discussing ovarian cancer awareness, its silent symptoms in hopes of educating the attendees to pay attention to their bodies and become their own advocates because far too often this cancer, ovarian cancer is found advanced, in a late stage. I would guess of the 350 in attendance, perhaps about 10% were ovarian cancer survivors…some in treatment and others beyond treatment. Two survivors spoke at the end of the presentation. One woman just completed her treatment the second, announced she was a 30 year survivor. 30 years!!!

Now the presenters at this event consisted of all medical professionals, gynecologic oncologist, a gastroenterologist and several geneticists. As they spoke, they all were focused upon the cancer, its genetic make-up and they spoke about learning what makes the cancer tick – how does it grow so they can understand how to stop its growth. Now pretend you are watching a movie. You hear that screeching noise of a needle being scraped over a vinyl record (I am showing my age if I have to define what a vinyl record it to you) You are hearing a screech implying a rapid halt in the movie…a moment of profound reflection…a possible revelation disclosed. Now…I have to wonder, why aren’t these professionals interested in studying the 30 year survivor? Doesn’t it make sense to observe the success found in this woman and learn how to replicate her success? She beat the odds! She is surviving. Don’t you want to know why or more importantly how did she do it? I know I do!

I would like to suggest these medical professionals are likened to driver education instructors. Do they teach by observing car accidents? Do they instruct the student to study the causes of the accident? Or do they teach by mentoring behind the wheel…verbally instructing, guiding the student to learn the feel of the accelerator; learn the feel of the brake pedal…and learn how to multi-task these pedals while steering the vehicle.  They mentor the student to an even more heightened awareness of the pedals in conjunction with the steering and the visual observations of what is in front of them, what is beside them and what is behind them. When you really think about it, learning how to drive is quite an amazing feat. So again I wonder why aren’t medical professionals studying survivors and mentoring these survivors with the newly diagnosed?

The other events were very similar in nature…events of education and awareness. One event I attended was a two-day conference filed with medical professionals talking about navigating the patient through their treatment…actually it was all about navigating them through the medical maze of revenue generating procedures in hopes of providing patients a sense of relief from knowing what to do and where to go next. With every presentation, with every mention of total access to quality medical care, not once was the mention of a cure made. Not even a slight hint of a cure was made. Is that why you sought medical advice for what ailed you? Did you seek medical advice for obtaining a laundry list of test and procedures you had to have or did you anticipate finding the source of your discomfort and complete relief from that? Didn’t you want life, a much longer life as the agreed upon goal with your medical advisor?

So where are these cancer survivor mentors? Don’t you want to be guided by them? Wouldn’t the optimum course of treatment be to have the medical professional remove the cancer from the body and then guide the patient through survivorship with mentors who are successful survivors? Wouldn’t you want to have your driver’s education instructor be one who already knows how to drive? Wouldn’t you like to know and be mentored by a long-term ovarian cancer survivor?

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