Deadly Risk Factor: Docs Who Don’t Take Your Symptoms Seriously

Sisters, it is time for us to fight back.

Today, I found out that the fabulous Carey Fitzmaurice just passed away from Ovarian cancer, the same cancer that took my sister-in-law Lena from us two years ago.

In their honor, I’d like to spread awareness about one of the biggest risk factors for death from ovarian cancer: Doctors who don’t take your symptoms seriously.

Paint toes teal and tell friends about Ovarian Cancer

Teal toes — awareness for Ovarian Cancer. Image from http://www.nailsmag.com.

Carey dedicated part of her life to Teal Toes, TealToes.org, to spread awareness of the symptoms of this disease:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

According to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, “you should see your doctor, preferably a gynecologist, if you have these symptoms more than 12 times during the course of one month and the symptoms are new or unusual for you.” Other symptoms include “fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities.” More on symptoms from OCNA.

Because these symptoms can indicate other diseases, diagnosis is often delayed. That means that cancer can spread before the disease is treated. That is a problem if your doctor does not take your symptoms seriously.

Please spread the word, not only about the symptoms, but for the need for us to be assertive about testing when we have symptoms. If you have any of these symptoms, please see a gynecologist and insist that you get a test for ovarian cancer.

As a Cancer Thriver, I believe in thriving no matter what your cancer status is — even if, like Carey, you have stage 4 cancer. Carey certainly provided us with an example of how to live a rich life even during treatment for a devastating diagnosis. But I also know that early detection is more likely to find cancer when it is curable, a goal that Carey tried to promote with TealToes.org.

In Carey’s honor, please consider painting your fingernails or toenails teal, and use the color to have a conversation with a friend. Tell her the symptoms. Spread the word. Awareness saves lives. So does taking your own body seriously — and being assertive with your doctor.

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About Zahara Heckscher

Writer, educator, social justice advocate. Co-author of How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas (Penguin, 2002) and forthcoming Volunteer Travel Reimagined: The Learning Service Guide. Instructor at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD and co-inventor of The Poetry Game. Mom, wife, cancer thriver, advocate for a world of justice.
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