Ignoring Symptoms Could Have Cost Ovarian Cancer Survivor Everything

Author: Leslie Toldo

When Cheryl Webber first noticed a lump in her lower abdomen, she didn’t think much of it.

“I could see it when I laid on my back, and I could feel it when I laid on my stomach,” Cheryl said.  “I didn’t say anything about it to anybody for a couple of months. I thought maybe I was starting to get a pot belly.”

By the time the lump was about the size of a baked potato, Cheryl had an appointment with her nurse practitioner, Angie, who was immediately alarmed.

“She sent me for a CT scan that afternoon,” Cheryl said. “That evening, Angie and the radiologist called me and said they were very concerned it could be cancer.”

A biopsy at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint confirmed their suspicions. Cheryl had stage three ovarian cancer.  

“The mass was quite large. It was growing and aggressive,” Cheryl said. “They were very concerned it may have spread to lymph nodes or that it was going to, or that it might even spread to the lower GI tract. The tumor was sitting on my bladder.”

Other than her bladder being a little more active than normal, Cheryl said she never suffered any other symptoms or pain.  Many women with ovarian cancer either experience no symptoms or simply miss the ones they have.  Those symptoms often mimic other issues and can include:

  • Abdominal pain, swelling, discomfort (gas, bloating, cramps)
  • Back or leg pain that does not go away
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full after eating only a small amount of food

“Ovarian cancer is not the most common cancer in women, but due to the often-subtle nature of symptoms early on, it remains one of the more common cancer-related causes of death in women in the US,” says Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint Gynecologic Oncologist Dr. Benjamin Mize. “Because it can be a ‘silent’ cancer, paying attention to persistent, often vague symptoms may still save your life.”

Cheryl needed nine weeks of chemotherapy to shrink her tumor enough to remove it surgically. While the cancer did not spread to Cheryl’s lymph nodes, it had spread to the omentum, a sheet of fatty tissue that starts in the stomach and drapes over the intestines.

“I was kind of a basket case.  It was tough,” Cheryl said.

However, Cheryl had someone special to help her through the dark days.  Ironically, it was someone she brought into her life just before she got her cancer diagnosis.   

“Two weeks before I first saw my nurse practitioner, I had actually flown down to Maryland and picked up a puppy I named Zane,” Cheryl said.  “Raising Zane during my diagnosis and treatment was a blessing. It gave me something to think about and kept my mind busy.”  

Zane was there as Cheryl underwent her first round of chemo, surgery, and another nine weeks of chemotherapy afterward.  He was a source of comfort when genetic testing revealed Cheryl carried the BRCA 2 gene mutation – a huge risk factor not only for ovarian but breast and other cancers.

Having a family history, especially a mother, daughter, or sister who has had ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer, puts women at higher risk, but genetics are only a small part of the equation. Other factors include:

  • Starting menstruation before the age of 12
  • Starting menopause after 50
  • Never having children or giving birth after 30
  • Having a history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer

Cheryl shares her story, hoping it may help other women catch this silent killer before it is too late.

“Ovarian cancer can sneak up and blindside you. It doesn’t have to be that way. Women need to really be in tune with their bodies and not be afraid to look for help,” Cheryl said.

She also wants women to know that a team is ready to fight for them if the worst happens.

“I am more of a holistic person. I had never put my faith in big medicine but when you are faced with stage three ovarian cancer, you just have to go all in,” Cheryl said.  “Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint was great. From my oncologists to my nurse navigator, they were all there for me. “

You can set up an appointment with a member of our comprehensive cancer care team at https://www.karmanos.org/karmanos/karmanos-cancer-institute-mclaren-flint-home