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Natural Awakenings Boston

Raising Awareness and Survival Rates For Those With Ovarian Cancer

Apr 30, 2015 11:04PM ● By Nadia Neil

Heidi Suskin

A 28-year-old woman has plenty on her mind—beginning and advancing her career, finding a partner or building a family, and determining her priorities in life. What is not typically on her mind is ovarian cancer.

When Heidi Suskin was 28, she was incredibly active, working about 60 hours a week in a Boston public school, taking yoga classes at night and on the weekend, and spending time visiting nearby friends and family. Then, in the span of a month, Suskin started noticing that she was running to the bathroom two or three times more frequently than before. Despite being active and following a healthy diet, she began to feel that her pants and skirts were getting tighter in the waist. At night she felt more and more uncomfortable, to the point where she was losing sleep and feeling short of breath. Eventually, Suskin’s appetite diminished.

Clearly, something was wrong. An appointment with her primary care doctor led to an immediate ultrasound, in which Suskin and her doctors discovered a cyst on her ovary that was six inches in diameter. A few days later, she was referred to an OB/GYN for a second ultrasound. It showed that the cyst had grown another inch and a half. Suskin was then referred to a gynecologist/oncologist for an emergency surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. During the five-hour operation, doctors removed the cyst along with one ovary, one fallopian tube, and the appendix. To her surprise, doctors revealed that the cyst they’d removed was cancerous, but it was contained in the ovary that was also removed.

Suskin and her loved ones recognize and appreciate how incredibly lucky she was to have been diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer at the earliest stage possible, stage 1A. Fortunately, she had listened to her body, which was presenting symptoms for this deadly disease. Her doctor determined that surgery was sufficient treatment, and that she would not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation, allowing for a recovery process of less than three months.

Almost two years after her diagnosis, Suskin is doing remarkable well, back to her regular yoga practice, and actively volunteering to support the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) in raising awareness about this disease. Stories like Suskin’s, of women uneducated about ovarian cancer and needing support, is why the NOCC’s MA Chapter exists. Early diagnosis can lead to a survival rate of 92 percent, but only 20 percent of women are diagnosed in the earlier stages like Suskin. Unlike breast cancer, there is no early detection test. When women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in later stages, the survival rate drops drastically to 20 percent.

The NOCC has three key initiatives to assist in the battle against this deadly disease:

•TEAL (Take Early Action and Live) education and awareness programs

•Faces of Hope – a survivorship program that provides up-to-date information, hope and support services to women with ovarian cancer, their families and loved ones

•Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer – a signature event that raises awareness, provides education, celebrates survivors, pays tribute to those lost to the disease, and funds research for a cure through a Research IN Action initiative

The NOCC’s MA Chapter is hosting the 17th Annual 5K Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer on September 13, at the DCR Mother’s Rest Area and Day Boulevard on Carson Beach, in Boston. To register and participate, visit NOCC.kintera.org/ Massachusetts.

To learn more about the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, visit Ovarian.org

Nadia Neil is manager of the NOCC Massachusetts Chapter, located at 347 Massachusetts Ave., Ste. 3, Arlington. Contact her at 781-643-9800.

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