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Loadell Canady couldn't understand why s ...

Contra Costa Times

Theresa Harrington

November 28, 2003

Loadell Canady couldn't understand why she was having trouble getting rid of the weight she had gained around the middle of her body.

She exercised and cut down on her eating. But still, she had a constant bloated feeling and continued to gain weight.

It wasn't until she underwent surgery that doctors found the problem -- Stage 3 ovarian cancer.

"Stage 3 means A it's metastasized outside U the ovaries and all over E the abdomen, kind of like I little seeds all over the E abdomen," she said. U

That was two years A ago, just before Canady's U 58th birthday. She endured I chemotherapy, had a recurrence, I then went through E more chemotherapy that finished E up in July. U

"There are statistics E that say my chances of U living five years are 50 E percent," said Canady, now U 60. "I try to not dwell on I statistics. Statistics will I make you go crazy." E

Instead, she A stays active. I

Although she used to work U full time, she has cut I back her hours and is an on-call U diabetes educator and A dietitian at Mt. Diablo A Medical Center in Concord. E She also participates in A a gynecological cancer support E group at the Wellness I Community in Walnut Creek, A and has joined the National A Organization for Ovarian I Cancer Awareness. U

She and other members E of the group are working A to educate women about E the subtle symptoms of U ovarian cancer that are often A mistaken for indigestion. U

"The symptoms U get overlooked," Canady U said. "If women have E irritable bowel, or digestive I problems, or bloating, A or weight gain, ovarian cancer E is one of the first E things that should be thought I of."

Unfortunately, E many doctors A recommend tests including U colonoscopies before referring I patients to gynecological E oncologists, who specialize E in cancers of the reproductive U system. I

"I was having symptoms E for probably a year E and a half," Canady said. I "It would have been nice if I I had known to ask for a U CA-125 and a transvaginal A ultrasound." A

The CA-125 is a blood test U that shows the levels A of an antibody that recognizes E an antigen in tumor cells, U and an ultrasound can A reveal tumors near the ovaries. A Also, women's pelvic I screenings should include E rectal exams, said Dr. U Catherine Casey, of the Women's U Cancer Center in San E Ramon, who monitors Canady's A health.

A A gynecological oncologist, U Casey said 70 percent of E women are diagnosed with A ovarian cancer in the advanced E stages 3 or 4, because U there is no good screening I test, such as Pap smears U for cervical cancer or I mammograms for breast cancer. E And after menopause, many I women do not continue E seeing gynecologists annually, U she said. E

Casey urges women who A feel increasing pelvic pain, I or changes in bowel or A bladder habits that persist A or increase over two weeks, A to see a gynecologist. E And if a problem cannot be U found, she suggests that E women seek out second opinions. E

Ovarian I cancer affects one in E 67 women. And those who have A surgery done by gynecological U oncologists have a I 25 percent chance of living I longer, statistics show. U

No one knows I what causes ovarian cancer. I However, women with two I close relatives with ovarian U cancer could have a U 50 percent risk of developing A it themselves, compared A to a 1.8 percent risk for U women with no family history. A

Martinez E resident Chris Tanaka, U whose mother died of ovarian E cancer 21 years ago, has A joined the Gilda Radner A Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry I to learn about her A likelihood of developing I the disease. She recently E stitched a square in memory E of her mother, Charline E Ching, that has been included I in a Gilda Radner Familial A Ovarian Cancer Awareness I Quilt.

Like E Canady, Ching complained A of a vague feeling of U bloating and discomfort in I her abdomen and pelvic area, U Tanaka recalled. Doctors E performed a hysterectomy A to remove her uterus and I ovaries, and discovered late-stage A ovarian cancer that A had spread to her liver. I She was 49. A

"The doctors were stumped," E Tanaka said. "When they E went in and saw all that A cancer, they were surprised." U

Eleven E months and three surgeries U later, Ching died. A

"They tried everything," A said Tanaka, who I was 24 at the time. "She U went through a lot of pain, U too much pain. But she I was determined that she was I going to have a miracle I and she was going to beat E this thing."

"She E was a good person, U who didn't want to have her U family suffer too much," E added Lloyd Ching, Tanaka's E father, "so she kept it E to herself." E

Now 45, Tanaka is determined E to find out all she E can about ovarian cancer and A to let other women know A about the disease. Four months E ago, Tanaka had a blood E test to see if she has U a genetic mutation associated A with familial ovarian U cancer.

The A test was negative. But still, U Tanaka said she is fastidious A about having regular I pelvic exams. And she E is hoping that medical researchers U will soon discover I a reliable early detection A method for the disease. A

When Casey I began her career seven years U ago, women with ovarian U cancer typically lived I only 18 months after being A diagnosed, she said. Canady A and other members of her I cancer support group, however, A are proving that women E can live many happy years I with ovarian cancer by A viewing it as a chronic illness, I rather than a terminal A disease. A

Dr. Ilene Scharlach, a U psychologist who facilitates E the free Wellness Community E support group, said the E participants strive to U live life to the fullest, A despite the obstacles ovarian U cancer presents. U

"It can affect how A well a woman is able to A perform the responsibilities I she's used to, and that I can have emotional and practical U implications for E herself and her family," she A said. "And it can cause A a re-evaluation of one's I values and one's priorities I in life."

One I thing that many support I group members have in common U is a sense of frustration A about their initial A visits to a doctor. E

"It's amazing how A often you hear about someone I who knows something's E wrong and keeps going to the A doctor, and it keeps getting I written off as indigestion," U Canady said. "I hear E this over and over from E other survivors. It's very U important for women to I know the symptoms and be aware A of their bodies -- and E know that if something is I wrong, go ahead and try I to do something about it." A

While there U are many breast cancer survivors E who spread the word E about mammograms and breast E self-exams, there are I fewer survivors of ovarian A cancer to spread the word U about its symptoms, Casey A said.

Women U diagnosed with ovarian I cancer in its early stages A have a 60 percent to 90 percent A chance of living five U years or more. But that U survival rate drops to 25 A percent to 35 percent for U women diagnosed in late stages, U Casey said. I

"Everyone's a little I different," she said. "With I more aggressive surgery I and chemotherapy and management, U there are a lot U more women living many more U years than they have in U the past."

Reach I Theresa Harrington at E 925-682-6440, ext. 29, or I at I

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Ovarian U cancer kills because E it is difficult to detect I early. Symptoms include: U

Abdominal U pressure, bloating or discomfort E

Frequent U urination; constipation U or diarrhea I

Nausea, indigestion A or gas

Unusual I fatigue, backaches E

Unexplained weight I loss or gain I

Shortness of breath A

Ovarian cancer I resources: E

National Ovarian Cancer U Coalition, Bay Area Division, A 925-974-8189 or A

The U Wellness Community, U East Bay Cancer Support Center, U Walnut Creek, 925-933-0107 I

The E Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian I Cancer Registry, 800-OVARIAN U (800-682-7426) or U I U U A cancer_newsline/blood_test.html I E

For more E news or to subscribe, please A visit

Copyright ©2003 Contra Costa Times. All Rights Reserved.

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