© Herald photo by Jodi Schellenberg
Marilyn Young, a teacher at Carlton High School, is an ovarian cancer survivor.
It is a disease not many people know about.
Local teacher Marilyn Young shared her story of surviving ovarian cancer in honour of September being Ovarian Cancer Awareness month.
Like most ovarian cancer patients, Young didn’t know she was sick until she had a large cyst on her ovary -- it was already 23 centimetres and five pounds by the time she realized something was wrong.
“I was teaching a beautiful science class lesson,” Young said. “It was a hands-on demonstration and all of a sudden I started feeling stomach cramps.”
After feeling the cramps, Young thought she could get rid of the pain herself and headed to the washroom. When she went back to class, the pain was still there and was growing.
“I came back up and thought, ‘Get over it. You have another 20 minutes of class left, get over it,’” Young said.
Ultimately, Young was wrong. She said the pain was so extreme she couldn’t even finish teaching the class.
“I couldn’t even finish my class,” Young said. “The pain all of a sudden came automatically, so quickly, that I doubled over and said I had to go. They covered my classroom and my husband picked me up.”
After leaving the school, her husband took her straight to the hospital.
“There was increasingly more pain,” Young said. “I’ve had two children and it was worse than childbirth.”
At first, both Young and doctors thought it might be gallstones.
“No drugs eased the pain -- they couldn’t figure it out,” Young said. “Finally they drugged me up so much I was in la la land and they did an ultrasound.”
The ultrasound was showing a mass that looked similar to a pregnancy, but Young, who was 51 at the time, knew there was no way she was pregnant.
Young was shocked that she had no idea there was a huge cyst growing on her ovary.
“The pain came from the cyst winding around the aorta which was a good thing,” Young said. “I had an emergency surgery.”
After removing the cyst and ovary, her doctor sent it away for testing, but told Young he didn’t expect it to come back cancerous.
A week after the surgery, Young felt stir crazy and wanted to head back to work. She contacted her doctor to ask if he could sign papers stating she could go back to work.
“When I went into his office, he said, ‘Bring your husband too,’” Young said. “I knew right then, as soon as he told me to bring my husband, that something was wrong.”
Her test results came back positive for stage one ovarian cancer. Young was immediately scheduled for surgery to get a full hysterectomy and to check the lymph nodes.
“They did that early December and I started chemo January,” Young said. “That was my plight. I didn’t have any symptoms whatsoever like most women -- they don’t have anything until all of a sudden.”
Some of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are bloating, pelvic discomfort, back or abdominal pain, fatigue, gas, nausea, indigestion, change in bowel habits, emptying bladder frequently and menstrual irregularities.
“Even now -- I’m part of the knowledge is power educators -- even knowing all the symptoms, I didn’t have any of them,” Young said. “It is quite a disease that needs a lot of research and a lot of awareness for detection.”
Young explained the symptoms are very mild and many women may not even think about going to the doctor for something like bloating or fatigue.
“Bloating, what woman doesn’t get bloating now and again,” Young said. “If you are still in the menstrual cycle, you are going to get bloating. We don’t go into the doctor for that. Fatigue, everybody can get fatigued. It is just minor little signs. It is very, very hard to detect. It doesn’t show up.”
Ovarian cancer cannot be detected by a pap test, Young said, which is why knowledge about the disease is important.
“Ask your doctor to do the test internally,” Young said. “There is a test they do each time I go to the doctor now, they do tests internally to check around. They do blood tests all the time and that is a good marker if something is wrong.”
Doctors will not automatically give women these tests, Young said, so it is important to be educated about the disease and ask the doctor yourself.
“You have to ask for that -- advocate for yourself,” Young said.
Having an awareness month for the disease is also important, since it is one of the less known cancers, but kills 80 per cent of women diagnosed.
“Even myself, when I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, I didn’t know what that was,” Young said. “It is a deadly disease. It is not very well know so September is a very important month to get awareness out there -- what ovarian cancer is.”
She hopes with more awareness and more money for research, more questions about the disease can be answered and maybe researchers can find an early detection test.
“We need the money to do the research for the exact questions you are asking me that I can’t answer like why aren’t there symptoms, is there a test, like a pap test that researchers can develop?” Young said. “Maybe with a little more money they can.”
Young said both she and Arlen Harper, also of Prince Albert, are facilitators to educate people through Knowledge is Power.
“If anyone is interested we would be willing to give talks to (any) groups that would like us to come and talk to them about ovarian cancer,” Young said.
This coming weekend, Young will participating in the Ovarian Cancer Walk of Hope in Saskatoon and will be holding her own fundraiser, a golf tournament, on Sept. 15 to raise money for the cancer centre.
For more information about ovarian cancer, visit www.ovariancanada.org.