Cancer is not pretty. It is a devastating diagnosis for the patient, as well as the whole family. True, the patient is the one who bears the brunt of the disease – but the family must stand by and watch their loved one endure the ravages of the disease.
In November 2015, my mother, Betty Walter, was diagnosed with advanced Peritoneal Ovarian Cancer at the age of 70. Two weeks later, she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer – two separate primary cancers. Just six months later, in May of 2016, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Ovarian Cancer. I received my results in the hospital lobby, where my mother was receiving her final chemo treatment. I had to fight with many of my doctors to be tested for some symptoms I was experiencing because they all thought it was “sympathy pain” as I was a caregiver for my mother. My point? Had I not pieced the signs and symptoms together and ADMITTED they were like what my mother’s initial complaints were, I would have been dead. Done. Six feet under. I would have likely been buried in my early 40s.
I have been a caregiver, a patient, a friend, as well as a confidant and coach to fellow cancer patients. I have attended more funerals than I want to admit of friends who lost their battle, and to this day, I struggle with ‘survivor guilt’ trying to understand why my mother and I are “the lucky ones” and are still here – showing no evidence of disease, seven years later. My mother and I are the only two from our original support group still alive. Not a day goes by that I do not think about our friends – Andrea, Josie, Beth, Ginger, Kathy, Caitlyn, Lucille, and so many others. I want the world to remember them and the wonderful, beautiful women they were. The only thing I can think of is that I am alive to make a difference and increase awareness about the signs and symptoms of Ovarian Cancer so other women can be diagnosed earlier and hopefully beat this “silent killer”! There is a REASON my husband Bill and my sons and I are so vocal about what our family went through: telling my story might save someone’s life. And I will tell my story as many times as I need to and climb any mountain to raise awareness – and hope.
Today, we all live crazy, busy lives working, taking care of our homes and families, and shuttling kids from one activity to another. As a mom, I know how easy it is to ignore seemingly simple ailments because it just doesn’t fit into our busy schedules, but that is the problem with ovarian cancer. It mimics other, more common health problems and is misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for too long. We can ignore the seemingly innocuous discomforts of bloating or diarrhea and continue with our day – until the realization hits that maybe we should see a doctor. So begrudgingly, we make time, go to a doctor, explain the symptoms, and are given some medication and sent on our way.
Feeling accomplished for having seen a doctor, we resume our role in the rat race and barely miss a beat. But the bowel habits are still inconsistent, and now we’re noticing a change in our appetite too. Another trip to the doctor, but the same basic outcome: meds and sent on our way. This may happen a few times before realizing we need to advocate for ourselves and demand more testing. Some tests may be run, but here’s another problem: a pap smear does not detect ovarian cancer, nor does a basic blood panel. There is NO screening test to diagnose ovarian cancer. Most women are diagnosed in advanced stages as a result. Do we not see something wrong with this? This needs to change. 1:78 women will get ovarian cancer, and it is the 5th leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. That’s why I share my story, and my mom’s story in hopes someone will listen.
So why Kilimanjaro and Team TEAL? The thought of sleeping in tents without showering or washing my hair for 8 days while hiking hours a day with very detailed and select gear is rather daunting. Throw in the financial outlay of the gear, flights, etc., and it makes me wonder why we all agreed to tackle this fundraising endeavor for the NOCC in the first place. But just for a split second, because then I think about all my friends who lost their battle to ovarian cancer, and how much cancer affects the whole family, and the simple fact that if I can provide hope and inspiration to one person – just one, all the stress and planning and coordinating will be worth it. Then I think about the people that are taking a leap of faith and contributing to our ultimate fundraising goal and thinking of the families it will help. I think about how a $25 donation can provide educational material to 250 medical offices. I think about newly diagnosed women grasping for resources and the services the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition provides for the whole family. Knowing women battling ovarian cancer can have meals delivered so they can concentrate on getting better, and funding research to hopefully one day, in my lifetime, find a cure so no other woman must go through hell as we did. Until my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I knew nothing about gynecological cancers – until I had to. Most people won’t contribute to a cause until it affects them. How nice would it be if we raised enough funds to help find a cure?
Christine is raising awareness for ovarian cancer by taking hope to new heights, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with NOCC Team TEAL! She lives in Bucks County, PA, with her husband and their twin teenage sons, Curt and Karl. The family will also be visiting hospitals and orphanages while in Tanzania, Africa, distributing dental supplies and necessities to the local community through generous donations and partnerships with local schools and churches from their hometown.
To learn more about her and donate, visit her fundraising page here.