Ovarian Cancer is the 5th Leading Cause of Death Among Women…And Most Women Don’t Know It Exists
When Lorette Vacchiano awoke one night with a stabbing abdominal pain, she assumed she was having worse-than-usual cramps. She was young, healthy and active, so she figured there was nothing to worry about.
She had no idea that the next day, she’d be having her right ovary surgically removed.
At 41 years-old, Lorette had stage two ovarian cancer. How could this happen?
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death among women in the U.S. – and yet most women know little to nothing about the disease. . . And since your regular pap test doesn’t test for ovarian cancer, it often goes unnoticed until it’s too late.
Read on to learn more about Lorette’s battle with ovarian cancer.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was a public school teacher for 30 years. When I found out I had ovarian cancer, I was still teaching. My hobbies at that time were exercising, aerobics and dancing. I was also a volunteer at my church. I was a very active person.
Tell me about your symptoms. What did you think was going on?
It was right after Christmas. During the holidays, you tend to eat more. I noticed I couldn’t button the top button of my jeans. I thought I overate and gained weight. I continued to exercise and didn’t think anything of it. I went on with no other symptoms.
One morning, I woke up in severe abdominal pain. As the day went on, the pain got worse. My neighbor took me to the ER, and that’s when I found out. Other than the abdominal pain, I didn’t have any symptoms.
It almost sounds like there are no tell-tale signs of ovarian cancer.
Bloating was the only symptom I had. I’m religious about getting a regular pap; I’m very proactive with my health. I had no idea this was growing inside me. If I didn’t have the pain, I would’ve gone onto stages three and four of the cancer. More than likely, the tumor was twisting to cause the pain. When they did the biopsy and removed the tumor, it was the size of a grapefruit.
You had a lot of complications after your operation. Why?
It’s the way my body healed. I was in and out of the hospital for four months. At the time, I was divorced and raising two young children. It was hard on my parents and sister-in-law.
What kind of support system did you have?
I have wonderful friends and family who were supportive. But I did not find the medical community supportive at all, with the exception of my one surgeon who confided to me that he had cancer. But the medical community as a whole wasn’t very empathic to me.
Were you able to connect with other survivors?
Not really. At the time – and this was in the ‘90s – I don’t know that there were any support groups.
What’s the most important thing women need to know about ovarian cancer?
The pap test doesn’t test for ovarian cancer – only cervical cancer. Most women don’t know that. When I talked about it with other teachers, they were like, “But I go to the gyno!” They thought the same thing I did. They had no clue.
Regarding the symptoms, this is what I’ve learned: if a symptom persists for a period of time, say two to three months, you have to investigate. Be an advocate for yourself. Tell your doctor you’re concerned. The earlier you do that, the better.
Are you currently cancer-free?
I am. The thing that is incredible is that I had no returns. I was one of the lucky ones.
What’s your best advice for women struggling with ovarian cancer?
There are lots of support groups and foundations (like the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the Share support group). It’s important to be connected – to not go through this alone. The more positive you are, the better.
To learn more about ovarian cancer and what you can do to help, check out the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation.