September was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and although it is the most fatal of all women’s cancers, it fails to have the same awareness that other cancers seem to.
Sandra Cadieux said her mom has been courageously fighting this devastating disease for the past nine months. “We just want to get it out there and get people talking and more aware of this cancer.”
Statistics show that 70% of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer don’t survive five years, even with treatment. This is because there are no early detection processes that are reliable.
“If you can get diagnosed early you have a 90 per cent chance of survival, but most women just aren’t getting diagnosed that early,” said Cadieux.
There are four classified stages to ovarian cancer, and three grades within each stage. Cadieux’s mom, Vivian Chimilar, was diagnosed at Stage 3C.
“It was in December of 2012 my leg was swollen and I went to the doctor and they thought perhaps it was a blood clot. I went to the ER and had an ultrasound. They saw no clot so they did a CT scan and found a mass.”
Chimilar said from that point forward the process was quick and she was into see a surgeon within a couple of weeks and receiving chemo by mid-January 2013.
She began her journey through ovarian cancer with three chemotherapy treatments, each three weeks apart. She then had surgery in April.
“They removed the tumour which by then was 9.3 cm in diameter, which means it was there for a long time to be that large. This means I was not diagnosed for a long time.”
The surgical team found and removed another mass and did a procedure called ‘debulking’ where they remove anything with cancer including her appendix, some lymph nodes and ovaries. After nearly six weeks of recovery, Chimilar was back again receiving six more chemotherapy treatments each three weeks apart.
“The biggest thing is that the symptoms are subtle and not the same for everyone. Indigestion, feeling full and a loss of appetite are all symptoms but they’re often misdiagnosed,” said Chimilar.
She added that just because people may have these symptoms doesn’t mean they have cancer, but that if they persist beyond two weeks they should seek medical attention. “There were three things that got me through this journey, the first being my faith. When I was first diagnosed I had no idea what was going to happen or what the next step was, so I relied on the medical team and just took it one day at a time,” said Chimilar.
She said when she looks back at the last nine months it seems nearly impossible that she went through all that she did, but the fact that she did it one step at a time with her friends and family helped her make it through.
Chimilar said she has a new appreciation for all things in life, including spending time with her eight grandchildren and some things as simple as the sunshine.
“The forecast might be for rain, but when I wake up and the sun is shining it’s a great day,” said Chimilar. She said one of the hardest parts of the process was losing her hair not once, but twice.
“I lost my hair after chemo the first time in February and then had my surgery and during recovery it grew back. Then during my second round of chemo it fell out again, and that was almost harder than the first time.”
Cadieux and her husband, along with their four children, took part in an event in Edmonton called The Walk of Hope which raises funds for ovarian cancer.
“I guess any time someone is diagnosed with something serious, loved ones feel helpless. For us the walk was just a way where we could kind of bring a voice to the disease and feel like we were doing something to help,” said Cadieux.
She said she explained the situation to her children and wanted them to do some fundraising of their own, so they did a bottle drive. “They did two bottle drives and they raised $700. It became so much more than just the fundraising. They knocked on over 200 doors in Red Deer and shared their story in their own words and got people talking about it,” said Cadieux.
Chimilar finished her final chemotherapy treatment on Sept. 6 and had a final CT scan to see what the results of treatment were.
On Sept. 25 the results came back from the scan saying that there is no evidence of cancer. She will continue to be monitored closely for the next five years.