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Stories of Inspiration

Wait…That Lump isn’t Normal?

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

Starting in July 2011, I started experiencing strange health issues mainly stemming from an eye disease that causes blindness, which is typically a result of an autoimmune disease. This led to getting poked and prodded over my whole body, blood and urine labs done weekly, full-body scans (MRIs, CAT scans, PET scans), and even getting examined by the best doctors in Pennsylvania to determine what was going on inside my body. When I had finally accepted I had an autoimmune disease that I would have to live with for the rest of my life, a new concern arose, quite literally.

On Christmas Eve night in 2011, I noticed a lump near my right pelvic bone. I went to my older sisters and asked them about it. At the age of 16, my body was still changing so I wasn’t sure if it was normal. My sisters confirmed that it was normal and told me to go back to bed. A couple of days later I was prom dress shopping with my best friend and asked her about it; she also said it was normal. Another few weeks later I went to see my family care doctor for my 17th birthday check-up and I told him about my lump. Again, I was told it was normal and that I always had a lump there.

In February 2012, I went to my Pediatric Rheumatologist for the autoimmune disease. She felt the lump during that visit and asked about it. We told her my family doctor knew about it and said it was fine. I was ordered to do a 24-hour urine test for that doctor visit but I pushed it off until the upcoming three-day weekend from school. My test result came back negative for the diseases they were testing for, but they found blood in my urine and I was scheduled for an ultrasound to see if I had kidney stones the following week. The mysterious lump was finally detected as a mass that was blocking the image of my right kidney during that ultrasound appointment. I was admitted to the hospital the next night.

I still remember my parents standing in the kitchen when my twin brother and I got home from a junk-food haul for movie night. They told me that I had to go to the hospital, but I didn’t want to go. I wanted to spend the weekend home and go in on Monday. But, my mom packed my bag as I just sat there in my room confused and unsure of what was happening. At that time, all I knew was that I had blood in my urine, and there was a mass that wasn’t supposed to be there. Cancer didn’t even cross my mind. I didn’t even know ovarian cancer was a thing at that time!

I spent the next 24 hours repeatedly getting asked if I was pregnant… which I was not! While I was admitted I had to do another MRI scan. During the scan I had the worst dream I have ever had. I dreamed that I had cancer and the wonderful staff stopped the scan, due to the fact all I wanted was my mom and my aunt. They rush me back to my room to be with my family. I couldn’t shake what I saw; the nurses ran into my room because I was sobbing. I told them what I saw. I couldn’t say the word and it was my first time I referred to cancer as the C-word. The room got quiet, the nurses left and got me a slushie (a perk of being on the pediatric floor). As the hours went by the feeling of cancer still lingered inside of me. Finally, I went into surgery 48-hours after I was admitted to removing the mystery grapefruit-size mass; my right ovary and fallopian tube were also removed during surgery. Two days later I found out that it had been cancerous and that I was free from ovarian cancer two weeks after my 17th birthday, on February 28, 2012. If I never had to do that 24-hour urine test my experience would have been much worse!

Since I found out I was cancer-free, all of the other health issues that I was experiencing went away with the removal of the tumor. My team of doctors, family, and I decided that I did not need to do the treatment at that time due to how early my tumor was caught and it was contained within itself. However, I was made aware if cancer comes back the results would be to do the treatment. Therefore, the road to recovery began, which included: genetic testing and six years of being carefully watched to make sure cancer didn’t come back. This caused me to miss most of my junior and senior year of high school. I was prescribed a very strong hormonal replacement to help preserve my left ovary to have a chance at having children one day, which resulted in what I refer to as medically induced menopause. Of course, I still have had many cancer scares along the way, all before I was 25 years old.

One thing I learned from this experience is once you have had cancer you are never truly in the clear from hearing that word. You will be always getting tested and the “C” word will always be brought up at doctor appointments. It’s a reminder to live every day to the fullest because you never know what tomorrow brings. I was lucky they caught mine at a very early stage. That is all thanks to my Rheumatologist for making me do a 24-hour urine test. From my experience, I understand why ovarian cancer is most often diagnosed at later stages.

Despite the new challenges that I now experience, without having cancer in my life I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It made me strong and more resilient in the challenges I face. I remind myself of the things I was able to achieve despite having cancer at the age of 17. I went to both of my proms, graduated high school ON TIME, became a flight attendant, and traveled the world. Last year, I achieved my bachelor’s degree in under 3 years. Cancer was a blessing and a pain in the butt, but this is my story and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Carissa Phillips

Carissa is a world traveler that is part of the NOCC Delaware Valley Chapter. She enjoys running, experiencing new cultures, and spending time with family and friends. As of 2020, she has been in remission for 8 years.

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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