The month of October will be swathed in pink, as if for a national Christo installation. I am not opposed to fighting breast cancer, or any other kind of cancer. I just wonder if anyone knows that September is National Ovarian Cancer Month, or that our color is teal? That our two national organizations are the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (because, despite nice words like coalition and alliance, it’s really about money and power, and an attempted merger failed).
There’s a breast cancer site where one can click and donate towards free mammograms for women who can’t afford them. (The click is free—advertisers pay for it.) Some insurance companies—and Medicare— even pay completely for annual mammograms, as preventative maintenance. That’s not benevolence; it’s cheaper to treat or remove a small tumor than to pay for major surgery, treatment, and reconstruction. Mastectomy, a word that no one spoke when I was growing up, is commonplace now.
Hardly anyone talks about oophorectomy, which admittedly is harder to say. I’d had one for years before I tried. Start with ooof, as in a cartoon, where the character is punched in the gut and says, Ooof! Unless you’re really conversant with Latin, it will not be apparent that an oophorectomy is the removal of the ovaries. Save the Tatas! makes a great bumper sticker. There isn’t even language for those of us with ovarian cancer. Save the egg crates?
In some cases, such as mine, every other bit of reproductive equipment is removed as well. I found and still find it hard to mourn this loss. It’s not as if I’d ever seen or touched my ovaries. They made me biologically female, but in a different way than breasts do.
I’ve just gotten my plea for money from the American Cancer Society, which could not help me when I called them as suggested a few years ago, because there’s no funding for either of my cancers (ovarian and bladder). Their literature is very proud of the progress made in delaying death five years. Now, 68% of us make it to that marker. Although I’m glad to be in that number, it means that nearly a third of us with cancer die in less than five years from diagnosis. And note the language carefully. It doesn’t say cure, despite all the slogans about walking, running, or biking for the cure. It says if you’re in the lucky two-thirds, you can have five years, maybe more.
The American Cancer Society sponsors Making Strides Against Breast Cancer events. A quick perusal of their site doesn’t yield Making Strides Against anything else. This, even though the ACS projects the number of respiratory system cancer deaths in 2012 to be 73,660 of 113,910 new cases and the number of breast cancer deaths to be 39,510 out of 226, 870 new cases. This is indeed good news; strides have been made in treatment of breast cancer.
Ovarian cancer numbers, however, haven’t budged much; an estimated 22,000 new cases, with an estimated 15,500 deaths. That’s why they call my cancer deadly. No screening test exists. The symptoms—bloating, pelvic discomfort, digestive troubles, and urinary urgency and frequency—sound a lot like menopause or aging. But if you experience them for more than two weeks, see a doctor. Pronto. Demand a CA125 (cancer antigen 125, a blood marker). No, it’s not conclusive, but anything over 35 isn’t normal; a friend who didn’t make the five-year survival date had a CA125 of more than 800. Finding this cancer early is critical to survival. Late stage (III or IV) doesn’t often get those five years; I am a walking miracle.
I’m happy for any strides or baby steps we can make against cancer. I wish there were more parity in funding, research, and treatment. I wish the medical establishment had something better to offer than surgery, chemo, or radiation. I wish we would all eat sensibly, maintain a healthy weight, stop using tobacco, eat less red meat, and get some exercise. I’m grateful for the good care I’ve received and the five years and counting I’ve had. I long for the day when the American Cancer Society closes for lack of stats to collect, rather than being able to predict 577,190 cancer deaths for men and women in this country in 2012. Surely, we can do better.