If helping save lives is your cup of tea, you might want to attend the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition Tucson Chapter’s fourth annual Teal Tea, which raises awareness about and funds education about ovarian cancer.
“Ovarian cancer is kind of the stepsister to breast cancer, but we are starting to shout more and more about it so we can get the word out. Raising awareness is one of the big messages for the fourth annual Teal Tea,” said Vonnie Erickson, chairwoman of the fundraiser that will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort & Spa.
Erickson is a retired registered nurse who is also co-chairwoman of the nonprofit coalition’s Tucson chapter with Margaret Hoeft. She became vocal about the subject when her daughter, Katy Lindell, was diagnosed with early-stage ovarian cancer two years ago at age 42.
The cancer was difficult to diagnose, which is not uncommon with ovarian cancer due to its vague symptoms. Lindell went to several physicians complaining of menstrual problems, bloating and frequent urination.
She received a diagnosis when the third physician performed a hysterectomy and pathology results showed Stage 1C cancer of the ovary as well as cancer of the uterus. Surgery was followed by six treatments of chemotherapy, and Lindell now has no evidence of the disease.
“Many of the survivors we talk to go to multiple doctors before they are correctly diagnosed. Ovarian cancer often acts as more of a bowel problem — something with bloating or cramps — or a urinary problem. We are really working to get doctors to think ‘ovarian cancer’ when they see these symptoms,” Erickson said.
Though symptoms are often subtle and can be attributed to many conditions, Hoeft emphasizes that the symptoms of ovarian cancer are not silent. NOCC outreach promotes awareness about four main symptoms that may indicate an occurrence of the disease:
• Extreme fatigue.
• Bloating and/or feeling full quickly when eating.
• Bowel issues, which can include constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain or digestive problems.
• Bladder issues such as the need to urinate urgently or frequently.
The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition recommends that women see a physician if any of these symptoms persist for more than two weeks.
“If you have symptoms that have lasted two weeks, Dr. Oz says that women should go to their doctor and say, ‘Tell me why this is not ovarian cancer.’
Hopefully then the doctor will do tests to help with diagnosis. There is no early diagnostic testing like a mammogram, but ultrasounds and a blood test known as CA-125 can give good hints about whether ovarian cancer is occurring,” Erickson said.
While CA-125, ultrasound with transvaginal sonography, a rectovaginal examination, CT scans and X-rays are all diagnostic tools, a biopsy is necessary to confirm the disease.
Hoeft emphasized that the importance of early diagnosis — and therefore recognition of symptoms for ovarian cancer — can’t be overstated, particularly since only about 19 percent of cases are diagnosed early.
“If you are looking at an early diagnosis at Stage I, there is a 90 percent survival rate, but at Stage III or IV, the survival rate goes down to about 30 percent in five years,” she said Hoeft.
Hoeft and Erickson are optimistic that public education and outreach through events such as the fourth annual Teal Tea, along with high-profile publicity from celebrities such as actress Angelina Jolie, will help to save lives.
Jolie’s mother died from ovarian cancer, and as a carrier of the BRCA gene mutation that has been tied to ovarian and breast cancer, Jolie elected to have a preventive double mastectomy and will opt for a preventive hysterectomy before menopause.
“There is talk out there now, and the more we can bring ovarian cancer to people’s minds, the better,” Erickson said.