The Ovary From Hell
By Author Donna Jean McDunn
Recently I had a very strange thing happen and because of this I want to share my experience with all the women out there that read my blog. So if any of you men or women following my blog, gets upset over female health issues, you may want to stop reading now, unless you have a woman in your life who matters to you, because what happened to me is something that can happen to any woman at any age unless she has had a complete hysterectomy.
Since this incident took place, I have had several women ask me questions about it. What causes something like that? How did you know what it was? How did you find it? What were your symptoms? How was it removed? Was it cancer? How long did it take you to recover? These were the most often asked questions and I’d like to try and answer them.
Toward the end of last year, I began noticing weight gain. I had just spent the previous ten months losing 32 pounds by joining Weight Watchers online and exercising three – four days a week at the YMCA. I couldn’t understand why I suddenly started gaining weight, but it was the holidays and as most any woman knows, it’s not a good time for weight loss. So I didn’t really worry about it yet. I simply thought I was sneaking a little more than I realized and so I became a little more diligent about what I put in my mouth.
By the middle of January I was still gaining weight and I knew something had to be wrong. I was still following my weight loss plan and exercising, but the weight kept coming on by a half a pound to a pound a week. By this time there was a lot of pain that became worse with exercise. By mid February I could no longer workout, the pain was just too intense and my stomach so hard and swollen, I couldn’t hide it with big shirts and it was embarrassing.
My symptoms included, along with the hard swollen stomach, sharp stabbing pain in the left side of my abdomen, just under my ribs that radiated into my back and hip. A slightly less stabbing pain on the right side, radiated into my back, and the pressure and discomfort was increasing daily.
Other symptoms included nausea, feeling of fullness, pressure in my throat, hard to breathe, pain when pressure was applied to the spot in the center of my chest, where the esophagus and stomach join, extreme fatigue and I could only sleep for an hour, sometimes two, before the pain would wake me.
I’ve had some stomach and also esophagus issues in the past and because of this I believed the whole problem was my stomach. I have to have an endoscopic test done every three years by a gastroenterologist surgeon to determine if the Barrett’s esophagus I have has progressed into what’s called dysplasia. It’s a condition of the esophagus that shows up before cancer is detected. The test was scheduled for March 6th and would be performed by the gastroenterologist surgeon. I felt certain he would take the required amount of biopsies and/or see what was causing my problem.
On March 15th, I learned the results of the biopsies and what he saw in my stomach. The gastroenterologist surgeon found I had no change in the Barrett’s esophagus and he found no reason for my stomach to be swollen. I was back to square one, but I still believed it was my stomach or possibly my liver. I had tested high for liver enzymes on a blood test a couple of years prior and a failing or cancerous liver can make your stomach swell like mine had.
When I asked the doctor what he thought I should do, as only irony can have it, the doctor told me to stop overeating, to eat less uncooked vegetables, stop drinking diet coke, do not eat hard candy or chew gum, eat slowly and chew thoroughly and take Gas-X. ALL things I was already doing to prevent bloating and gas, except I hadn’t given up my beloved diet coke yet and I ate a lot of raw vegetables to lose weight. When I told him I had already done all those things except giving up diet coke and the veggies, he said that was my problem and I should measure my food to eat less and exercise.
I wanted to scream at him, but I’m civilized, somewhat, so I explained to him that I had lost 32 pounds during 2011 by measuring and weighing everything I ate and I had been exercising until the pain became too much. I don’t think he believed me and he didn’t really care anyway, but he finally agreed to give me a referral to another gastroenterologist who was not a surgeon, but specialized in the stomach, liver, and esophagus. I made the appointment…but to my horror, it was almost a month away…on April 11th. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to wait that long, but if the gastroenterologist surgeon was correct, then I needed to do what he said. After all, he’d gone to expensive schools to learn medicine and all I had was Google.
I stopped drinking diet coke and I bought Ensure for my meals. It didn’t help. I was still gaining weight almost daily.
I’ve had three babies (not all at once) and carried them to full term, but I was twice that size now and still growing. The pain was so bad, that I couldn’t sleep. My arms, legs and face were getting slimmer, but my waist and stomach had grown to epic proportions.
On March 26th, I got up to go to work and looked in the mirror and burst into tears and at that moment I realized I couldn’t wait until the 11th of April to find out what was wrong. What if this new doctor told me the same thing the other one had? I didn’t want to go to prison.
I called my family doctor, Dr. Mary Lob or Dr. Mary as her patients call her, and made an appointment for that afternoon.
I told her what the other doctor had said and that I had another appointment with a different doctor, but it was still several days away and I couldn’t wait any longer. I asked if she thought it could be my liver. She said maybe.
When she examined my stomach, she didn’t say anything for a minute, so I said what I knew she was thinking. “I’m not pregnant, because at my age, I believe it’s impossible and besides, this is nothing like any pregnancy I’ve ever had.”
She laughed. “Immaculate Conception, huh?”
My answer was, “No, it would be more like the child from…well you know. The only symptoms I haven’t had yet are cravings for raw liver or blood.”
She laughed again, but then became very serious. “You need a CT-scan immediately, like yesterday in fact.”
The next morning, the 27th, at the hospital, I had the scan. In less than an hour I knew the results. It was not my liver. I had an ovarian tumor on my left ovary. The tumor was 27 cm. (about 10.6 inches) and I needed to have it removed right away, but first I had to see a gynecologist surgeon.
It meant more waiting, but I had an answer and just knowing what the problem was and that it wasn’t my fault and that it could be removed, was enough for me.
On April 29th I met with the gynecologist surgeon, Dr. Erin Evans. She told me the tumor was under my ribcage pushing my ribs and organs out of the way as it grew and the top of it was where my liver should have been and that’s why I was in so much pain.
She ordered a blood test to test for the ovarian cancer marker CA-125. This is done, because if the test results show a probability of cancer, then a gynecologist oncology surgeon has to be present during the operation. Only a gynecologist oncology surgeon can remove the tumor and other parts, such as lymph nodes if there is cancer present.
A normal reading for CA-125 is 35U/ml. My test came back over 100U/ml. This meant I had to see a gynecologist oncology surgeon so he could be present with Dr. Evans during the surgery. If the tumor turned out to be cancer, he would perform all of the surgery. If it were benign, Dr. Evans would complete the surgery.
When Dr. Evans called me with the results of the blood test, she had already scheduled an appointment with Dr. John Morris, a gynecologist oncology surgeon. I met with him on April 10th and the surgery was scheduled for April 13th. Finally an end was in sight.
The tumor had to be removed in one piece, but it had now grown to 30 cm (11.8 inches). It weighed about 20 pounds and was removed through an 8 ½ inch incision that started 5 inches above my belly button and continued to another 3 ½ inches below.
The tumor was not cancer, but I had opted in to have all unused and unnecessary parts removed along with the tumor whether it was cancer or not. At the age of 61, I wasn’t using those parts anymore and I wanted no chance of something like this happening again. But this kind of thing can happen to any woman, young or old, and each woman must decide for themselves, with their doctor’s help, what’s best for them.
Women of all ages get cysts on their ovaries. Most go away without a problem, but sometimes, and they don’t know why, that simple cyst will begin to grow and when it does, it becomes a tumor. The probability of it happening increases with age.
Dr. Morris said ovarian tumors that are a solid mass and slow growing are the ones most likely to be cancer, but not always. The tumor I had was filled with 3 liters of fluid, it was fast growing and very large. Dr. Morris said that in his experience as a surgeon, he found that most of the fast growing and large tumors were benign, but not always. In my case that was true, but I believe, that if all three of my doctors hadn’t worked together so quickly and removed the tumor, it would have eventually (sooner rather than later) squeezed my organs so they couldn’t function and killed me anyway.
If you or a loved one has any of these symptoms, don’t delay; seek medical care now. Even if it isn’t a tumor, you owe it to yourself to know what’s wrong. Women have a tendency to always put others before themselves; that’s why we make great moms and grandmas. But I believe this is the reason many women die from their ailments, like heart attacks and cancer.
If the first doctor you go to doesn’t help, find a doctor who will listen to your complaints and cares what you have to say and is willing to try to find a cure or at least the cause.
I’m still recovering, but I’m back to working full time, exercising and eating healthy. I had lost twenty pounds three days after surgery and a total of thirty pounds by the second week after the surgery. At that time, I weighed ten pounds less than I had before the tumor started to grow, making my weight loss 42 pounds.
Dr. Evans asked me, at my last appointment, “How much weight have you lost?”
I told her.
She said, “You picked a heck of a way to lose more weight.”
I had to laugh and said, “Yeah, it worked, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”
As always, I appreciate your opinions or questions. I will do my best to answer them. Or simply tell me where I can find your words, so I can learn what has inspired you. It’s been said that writing is a lonely business and that’s true, but if we writers and readers continue to support one another, then we are no longer alone. I’d love to hear from you and read your work.
Some of my other work can be found online: Here’s a direct link to my children’s story “Pack Leader” at Knowonder Magazine. http://www.knowonder.com/2011/11/03/pack-leader-short-bedtime-stories/
I also have a children’s story, “The Golden Stallion” online at http://www.storiesthatlift.com. Once on the site click on the Story Library and then Children’s Stories
In May 2012, my children’s story, “Gus’ Big Adventure” was published at Bumples Magazine. http://www.bumples.com/
In June 2012, my first adult short story, “Saving Katie” will be published at http://www.thepinkchameleon.com.