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Stories of Inspiration

When a Nurse Becomes the Patient

By May 17, 2021June 14th, 2021No Comments

At age 60, I was at the top of my nursing career as head of orthopedics in the operating room at a hospital in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I was healthy, with no significant medical background, and often planned my next hiking and camping trip with my husband, John. We have two adult children, a son and a daughter, life was good.

My journey with ovarian cancer began when I started to notice a nagging pulling pain on my right side, which oddly seemed to worsen when I laughed. I also had wandering abdominal discomfort, some constipation, but no real pain. I went to my family doctor, visited my gynecologist, my gastrointestinal doctor, and even consulted a nutritionist along with my own “hallway consults.” If someone was walking by at work that I thought could help determine the problem, I asked! I also had three CT scans, lab work, chest and abdominal x-rays. If there was a test, I most likely had it to determine the source of my discomfort. This also included being worked up for celiac disease, gall bladder disease, Lyme disease, diverticulitis, and a pulmonary embolism. I tried to incorporate even healthier habits to see if that would make a difference. I exercised more, took yoga classes, attempted a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, tried probiotics, I even tried fasting. After six months with no improvement, my GI doctor suggested another CT and thought ‘maybe it could be chronic appendicitis.’ After working all day, I had my scan, went home, and received a call at 9:30 pm that night. I still remember the time of that initial phone call. “Well, it’s not appendicitis he said. That’s good, I said. Well, no, he said. Call your gynecologist tomorrow. You need to see him.” Ok. I wasn’t worried because I knew it wasn’t cancer -or so I thought. I already had the negative ultrasound and two previous CT scans, both of which did not see anything cancerous.

The next day, which was November 13, 2013, I got up, went to work at 6 am, found an empty OR room, and logged onto the computer. No HIPPA violation here. It was my own record. Nurses, as they say, are sometimes the ‘worst patient’ – and this patient wasn’t waiting to find out what was found on the latest CT scan. I read the following “large volume of peritoneal tissue characteristic of extensive peritoneal carcinoma” and “obscured organs”….and my very favorite….”shaggy rind of neoplasm.”

I thought I would be dead within the year. All I remembered about ovarian cancer was, “don’t get that one. It’s the bad one, poor prognosis, one of the worst.” A fellow nurse and good friend found me, and I called my gynecologist, who came and read the report. I felt paralyzed. Appointments were set up for me the very next day and the day after to see a gynecological oncologist. Seven days later, I was on the other side of the knife in the OR for surgery. Post-op, I had an allergic reaction to the linens, and I couldn’t recognize my own legs. They were so swollen they looked like elephant legs. I was sent home with a Foley catheter and had to self-inject anticoagulants. When I went for my first chemotherapy treatment, I thought I was going in to meet the nurses, get a tour, and then actually make an appointment to start. I panicked when I was told, “it was starting now.” I needed time to process, so I thought, and the nurses calmed me, asked what I needed, and got me a bottle of water, some magazines, and a much-needed dose of Ativan. I survived! But as we know, the journey with ovarian cancer can be long and not so “cut and dry.” I developed a small bowel obstruction, which required an NG tube placed in my nose. I think the NG tube was the worst.

Each year I have been part of the NOCC Delaware Valley Chapter and speak to medical students about my journey. I tell them to make sure they know that placing an NG tube is not as easy as we medical professionals think about the patient! I also say that I found it comforting when the doctors said, “if this were my loved one, I would do this…” and that ovarian cancer does not mean a death sentence. To me, it is a chronic disease.

I have had three recurrences since my first treatments. The first recurrence hit me almost harder than my initial diagnosis because I realized this is truly a chronic disease. On March 2, 2021, I had my second infusion for what is now my 3rd recurrence. I have dealt with losing my hair (just dyed it purple before losing it once again!), fighting fatigue, and being pumped full of poisonous chemicals. But my focus is always on the quality of life, and I enjoyed two years in my most recent remission! Since that ominous day almost 8 years ago, I have seen my daughter married, welcomed 4 grandchildren into my world, and celebrated many family events. My husband and I have traveled, biked, gardened, and kayaked in many beautiful places. We got a little teardrop camper during the pandemic, planning lots of trips, hopefully to Maine and the Maritimes this fall.

My faith, my family, and my friends sustain me on my journey. My husband, my children, and my sweet grandchildren bring me joy every day. I support the NOCC for my daughter, my two sisters, my ten nieces, many cousins, and all my teal sisters!

Mary Skorupa

Mary lives with her husband John of 43 years in Bucks County, PA. They have walked every street in Doylestown, PA, to continue to enjoy the outdoors during the pandemic. Her grandchildren love her purple hair!

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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

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.  

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

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