The Disease That Whispers

Dec 3, 2003
The Disease That Whispers

By Norella Harris Special to the Star-Telegram In the spring of 2001, I encountered firsthand the devastation of a insidious killer. It is the disease that whispers: ovarian cancer. During the onset of my ordeal, I thought my symptoms were caused by a gastrointestinal illness -- abdominal bloating, stomach pain, constipation and/or diarrhea. I took over-the-counter medication, consulted my primary care physician and even saw a gastroenterologist who diagnosed the problem as lactose intolerance. For a while, omitting dairy products relieved my symptoms, but there was always a reoccurrence of my gastric pain. I mentioned these symptoms to my gynecologist during my yearly physical examination. He ordered a CA125 blood test and an ultrasound. The results of these tests indicated the possibility of ovarian cancer. The next step was surgery -- the only sure method for determining ovarian cancer. There are four stages of the disease. I was in Stage III. This was devastating for me and my family. The advanced stages, statistically, have a five-year survival rate of 20 to 25 percent. That I am a survivor is due to the quick response of my gynecologist, the superb care of a very good gynecological oncologist and nurses, and the faith and prayers of family and friends. Annually, more than 70 percent of women who receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer are in the advanced stages -- and that's due to lack of early detection. Women need to be informed about the risk factors and symptoms of gynecologic cancers so that their conversations with their doctors can lead to early diagnoses that have a 90 percent survival rate at Stages I and II. "Johanna's Law" would help make that happen. Johanna Silver Gordon was a healthy woman with no family history of the disease and no idea that she was at risk. Like many other women with a diagnosis of gynecologic cancer, Johanna would have rushed to the gynecologist and insisted on tests that would have ruled out ovarian cancer had she realized that her symptoms were potentially indicative of this deadly disease. I want to thank Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, for being a part of this endeavor to educate the general public about ovarian cancer. She has a unique viewpoint because of her gender and because of her interactions with the female population. As there is very little educational information available about gynecologic cancers for the general public, the passage of this bill will provide a means for developing the information needed to educate women and help them talk to their physicians about gynecological cancer risk. In addition, passage of this bill will provide research funding for early detection and treatment so that more women can win the battle against this deadly disease. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Norella Harris works in the Department of Molecular Biology and Immunology at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth.