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Stories of Inspiration

Moving Every Day

By May 14, 2021June 14th, 2021No Comments

I was first diagnosed with Granulosa Cell Tumor (GCT) ovarian cancer in 2010. I discovered the tumor when I was training for my first half marathon. I noticed that I had a hard bulge near my waistline that just simply shouldn’t be there. To be honest, I was quite distracted at the time. Nine months prior I had started a new work position at my company and soon after my six-year-old son had broken his femur in a ski accident, resulting in emergency surgery, followed by home care and physical therapy. I guess you know when something is “off”, but I overlooked the telltale symptoms that are so common to women; irregular periods, constipation, and fatigue. I even brushed off a horrific night when I found myself flat on the floor of my bathroom, writhing in pain, assuming I was having an adverse reaction to something I ate when in reality, that was likely the night my tumor burst and absorbed my left ovary as I would find out later.

I ended up having surgery in June 2010 to remove “Bertha”, as the tumor became known in our house – much easier to have a code name to give to my children who were age 6 and 8 at the time. With the removal of “Bertha”, my left ovary, and the fallopian tube, I basically felt like I had “dodged a bullet”, having been told I had a very rare cancer but ‘all was fine now’ and the likelihood of recurrence was quite low. Further, I was told, if cancer recurred at all, it would likely be many, many years from now. I had CT scans, ultrasounds, and blood work over the next five years and basically assumed at that point that yes, all was good in the world.

In 2017, now seven years from my diagnosis, I was running my second half marathon and I couldn’t believe that at the mile 8 marker I had to stop to go to the bathroom. I’ve never stopped during a race. I knew something was wrong and my doctor sensed it from my voice when I called him. Sure enough, a grapefruit-sized tumor was now pressing up under my bladder. This time, however, the CT scan and ultrasound indicated not only the large grapefruit-sized mass but spots on my liver, near my colon and lymph nodes. The “potential rare recurrence” I had heard about seven years prior was suddenly all too real and feeling larger than life itself. My new surgeon outlined a plan, which was reassuring, but overwhelming at the same time. We shared with our boys that “Bertha was back – or perhaps it was her evil twin”, but now at ages 14 and 16 they knew what Bertha really represented. I had a significant surgery in December 2017 with a complete hysterectomy, removal of several lymph nodes, and small tumors in the omentum and near the gall bladder.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This was a big surgery for me with a 36-staple incision and a five-night hospital stay. Prior to ovarian cancer, I was healthy, a runner and swimmer who worked out five days a week. During my hospital stay, I lost my will a few times and was sick at the sight of those staples. It’s probably one of the few times in my life I wanted to give up. But my hospital team pushed me and Alan, my husband, and our family and friends were incredibly supportive. The day after I got home from the hospital, Alan and I went for a short walk in our neighborhood. The air was cold, but it really felt good to move and to breathe that cool air into my lungs after having been inside for so many days. We came across a man walking his dog, whom we noticed only had three legs. We heard the dog’s story of having lost a leg to cancer and it was all I needed to rally and get myself moving. My friend Wendy and I decided later that week that we needed to finish the race that we started eight years ago and signed up for a half marathon together. I was motivated and ready to move! Running makes me feel strong. And it is meditative and allows me to escape for a bit. It’s something I generally do alone but I like the adrenalin of races and the energy it brings to everyone. I also really enjoy being out in nature.

In early January 2018, right after we signed up for the race, I learned that given the recurrence and the possibility of GCT cells likely remaining, the recommended treatment was chemotherapy. Knowing that the prescribed cocktail would result in full hair loss, I looked into options like cold capping, but as soon I heard that I wouldn’t be able to swim or really wash my hair or have a ponytail, I shaved my head, bought a wig and embarked on the treatments over the next six months. Running, swimming, and skiing during that time kept me going, even on my toughest days. Just having a goal and a literal finish line to cross at the end of the treatment was such a motivator for me. I believe all that training activity also helped me get through the neuropathy and other side effects because I kept my body well hydrated and in constant motion. As the months progressed, the longer training runs became difficult and my oncology team really pressed me to consider not running the race in June. My last treatment was on May 30, 2018, and the half marathon was that same week. I would only have a few days to recover after the last treatment and lace up for that race. About 2 weeks before the race, my surgeon, who happens to be a marathoner, provided me with this counsel. “The day of the race you must promise me two things: 1) ask yourself if you are physically able to run this race today and 2) can I mentally and emotionally do it? If you cannot answer yes to both of those questions, then you must reconsider.”

On the day of the race, my friend Wendy, my doctor, and I laced up our sneakers and I answered yes to both of those questions. It was hard; I was tired but I had Wendy by my side every step of that 13.1 miles. And it was emotional. Alan and my boys Jacob and Jonah met me at every mile marker on their bikes and cheered me on. Mile 12 was the hardest point because I was so close to finishing and all the stress, and fatigue, and challenges over the past eight months just came flooding through. But Wendy and I crossed that finish line together.

One thing I have done over the past ten years living with ovarian cancer, I have researched and learned how to manage this disease including my diet and lifestyle. I also connected with other women with ovarian cancer, The “GCT sisters” provide amazing support, strength, and information that encourage me to continue asking questions and bringing ideas to my medical team. When I learned that one of my friends Terri from the group passed away I was devastated and in disbelief that this vibrant woman, who was such a connection for many of us, was gone. When I learned about NOCC Team TEAL and the opportunity to run in the New York City Marathon, I knew I had to raise my hand. It was no longer an option to just be healthy. I knew in my heart it was time to give back and fight for others. While running the marathon will be one of the hardest things I will do in my life, it pales in comparison to anyone living with cancer. I will run for that we have lost and those of us that are still fighting the good fight. My surgeon said to me recently, “you running the marathon on Letrezole is like me running the marathon in less than two hours”! That is because Letrezole, while it keeps my cancer cell growth at bay, eliminates estrogen which lubricates your joints. So I won’t be breaking any records that day and I may look like a little old lady at times, but I will run across that finish line.

I know that I will battle Granulosa Cell Tumor ovarian cancer for the rest of my life. But I have a choice every day. I can live and hold up those around me, or I can sit back and let life pass me by. I choose to keep moving – and in this case – running every day.

Anita Hariton

Anita Hariton is from Connecticut and a member of NOCC Team TEAL. To learn more about NOCC Team TEAL, contact teamteal@ovarian.org.

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Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Before ovarian cancer - healthy ovaries

Stage 1 - Cancer is confined to one or both ovaries

Stage 2 - Cancer spreads within the pelvic region

Stage 3 - Average stage of diagnoses is stage 3C; cancer spreads to other body parts within the abdomen

Stage 4 - Cancer spreads beyond the abdomen to other body parts

 

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Stage 1

The cancer is confined to the ovary or fallopian tube

1A - The cancer is confined to one ovary only

1B - The cancer is found on both ovaries

1C - One or both ovaries are found with cancer cells spilling out from the ovaries

1C1 - Accidental rupture of the capsule by the surgeon during surgery

1C2 - Rupture of the capsule occurred before surgery

1C3 - Cancer cells are found in the fluid of the pelvis/abdomen

Stage 2

Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries with pelvic extension

2A - Extension of cancer to fallopian tubes or uterus

2B - Extension of cancer to other pelvic organs

Stage 3

Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries, and the cancer has spread beyond the pelvis

3A - Microscopic cancer cells found in upper abdomen or lymph nodes

3B - Visible tumor found in upper abdomen less than 2cm in size

3C - Visible tumor found in upper abdomen greater than 2cm in size, including disease on the surface of liver or spleen

Stage 4

The cancer growth is widely spread throughout the body

4A - Cancer is found in the fluid around lung

4B - Cancer is found inside the lungs, liver or spleen

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

30 Years of Courage

1991   

NOCC begins as a grassroots organization founded by advocates and survivors in Boca Raton, Florida

 1995   

NOCC incorporates as the country’s first national organization providing awareness and education about ovarian cancer.

1996   

The first national ovarian cancer information hotline is established (1-888-OVARIAN), now averaging 10,000 calls each year.

1998   

NOCC proclaims a week in September “National Ovarian Cancer Week,” with a declaration from President Clinton. “Walk for a Whisper” 5K Walk/Run is initiated.

2000   

NOCC and the ovarian community proclaim September as “National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.”

2002

The organization produces television PSA about early detection and distributes to 30 states.

2003

Ovarian.org received the Oncolink.com Award from OncoLink, the first online cancer resource founded by University of Pennsylvania cancer specialists.

NOCC receives the National Points of Light award in celebration of the success and impact volunteers have made in their communities.

2004

NOCC launches “Body Image/Body Essence” art exhibit by sculptor John Magnan as a tribute to his wife’s journey with ovarian cancer.

2006

NOCC launches the “Break the Silence” national education campaign.

2007

The “Break the Silence” campaign reaches 100M impressions.

NOCC helps launch the first consensus on ovarian cancer symptoms.

2008

NOCC moves its principal place of operation and state of incorporation/registration from Boca Raton, Florida to Dallas, Texas.

NOCC advocates help to double Department of Defense funding for ovarian cancer research to $20M per year.

2009

“Newly Diagnosed Patient Kit” is launched. DVD resource is made available in Spanish and Mandarin; 450,000+ pieces of literature are distributed nationwide.

2010

The Faces of Hope® program and term “Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer” are initiated. 

Annual fundraising events are branded “Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer®.”

2011

NOCC partners with The Dr. Oz Show to create his Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer® campaign.

Over 1200 newly diagnosed women receive NOCC’s TEAL PACKET®

The “Ann Schreiber Ovarian Cancer Research Training Program of Excellence: A study by Dr. Ruth Perets” is supported by NOCC with a $50,000 contribution.

2012

NOCC supports quality of life research with the GOG 0225, LIvES Study, which is ongoing and conducted by the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

2013

More than 4,000 Faces of Hope TEAL totes are distributed.

2014

More than 575,000 pieces of education and awareness literature are distributed nationally.

NOCC affirms its commitment to research with the newest  initiative, collaborating with Stand Up to Cancer, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund to support the “Ovarian Cancer Dream Team.”

NOCC is featured in the highly coveted showcase window at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan.

2016

NOCC reaches its milestone 25th anniversary.

NOCC becomes an official charity partner for the New York Marathon and launches its first platform for endurance enthusiasts across the U.S - Team Teal®.

2017

Rejuvenate, the first event of its kind, is introduced by NOCC for survivors as a retreat experience centered around the mind, body and spirit; it later expands to a national series.

Not Knowing is Killing Us is launched as a hard-hitting national awareness campaign. 

2018  

NOCC's signature Run/Walk Series is rebranded and Together in Teal® Ending Ovarian Cancer is brought to life in communities across the nation.  

2019

Team Teal®, NOCC's endurance platform, expands internationally with participants in Greece and Canada.  

Together in Teal® Ending Ovarian Cancer is hosted at New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, a national historic landmark.

2020

In response to the pandemic, NOCC introduces programming offering relief to women and their caregivers including home meal delivery, Comfort for the Soul, and online professional counseling through Comfort the Mind.  

Teal Hearts Network, a series of regional survivor support groups, commences in a virtual setting.

Together in Teal(R) hosts its first virtual experience, No Boundaries, and unites participants in 50 states and 9 countries.  

Signs and Symptoms

Ovarian cancer signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Back pain
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation or menstrual changes
  • Pain during sex