Ovarian Cancer, Condescension and Intuition

Ovarian Cancer is one of those topics I’ve blogged about previously, because my mother-in-law was diagnosed with it six months ago. Her diagnosis came after many months of complaints, mostly gastro-intestinal in nature. Despite her ongoing complaints, she was never diagnosed until she was hospitalized. At the age of 86, she underwent surgery (wrong, wrong wrong! but tell that to my sister in law who made THAT decision) and today she is miserable, has little concept of reality, and is living in a nursing home. It breaks our hearts when we visit. We have no idea how long she will survive in this state of pseudo-living.

With that backdrop, you’ll understand why this morning’s news about a solid attempt at recognizing early symptoms for ovarian cancer makes me jump for joy. I see my mother-in-law’s problems everywhere on the list of factors to watch for: bloating, abdominal pain, difficulty eating, frequent need to urinate…. Yes, they are problems we have all had at one time or another (even boys do!) but when they continue, daily, for more than two weeks, cancer experts now tell us to get to the doctor, preferably an OB-GYN, for an examination.

The news was everywhere; radio, TV and print. The New York Times covers this development better than most others, at least if you want more info than just the top level points.

And here’s the quote from the NYT that makes your favorite Every Patient’s Advocate shudder, “In a survey of 1,700 women with ovarian cancer, Dr. Goff and other researchers found that 36 percent had initially been given a wrong diagnosis, with conditions like depression or irritable bowel syndrome. Twelve percent were told there was nothing wrong with them, and it was all in their heads,” Dr. Goff said.”

I can’t begin to tell you how much that raises my ire!! “There there, little lady. There’s nothing really wrong with you. It’s all in your head.”

As patients, we know when something isn’t right. We KNOW when our bodies are signaling problems. I believe the only reason patients are ever told something is “in their heads” is because the medical professional can’t do his job — he can’t diagnose – so he makes it the patient’s error and not his. Condescension in the form of placing the blame on the patient is unforgivable.

We human beings are blessed with instinct and intuition. We all have that little voice that tells us when something is right or wrong. We know when our gut is signaling good or bad.

Trusting that inner voice is the next step. Those of us who know how to trust it have a distinct advantage. It’s worth learning. It’s worth practicing. And when someone tells you something you KNOW can’t be true (because your inner voice has told you so) — then fight back. If a doctor tells you something is all in your head, then see another doctor. If you aren’t satisfied with the answers, or non-answers, then continue searching.

That’s how I proved I didn’t have cancer. That’s what kept me out of chemo.

And that’s what will make sure women get diagnosed early and successfully treated for ovarian cancer.

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Trisha Torrey
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