MONROE, Mich (WXYZ) — September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month; it's the most deadly of all gynecological cancers in the U.S.
Ovarian cancer is also the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among American women according to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance.
Despite these facts, ovarian cancer symptoms are often ignored or explained away as something else by many patients, making early detection an uphill battle. Early detection is also crucial for the most favorable outcomes battling the disease.
“The symptoms of ovarian cancer are quite subtle," said gynecological oncologist Dr. Irina Dimitrova with Henry Ford Health System.
They also can include a lot of symptoms women commonly encounter during their menstrual cycles like bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, and getting full too quickly just to name a few.
Karen O'Brien learned she had ovarian cancer in 2015 when doctors found a mass during a routine exam. She's now on her fourth round of chemo.
“With all the prayers that I have out there, we’re hoping that this chemo works this time," she said.
O'Brien helped create "Teal Attack" shortly after her diagnosis; teal being the color for ovarian cancer. Teal Attack uses athletic events to boost awareness for ovarian cancer signs and symptoms and also prevention.
O'Brien coaches volleyball at St. Mary's Catholic Central and wanted to make sure her players and the women in their lives are all being proactive about their health. She said what's most important is to know your own body and don't ignore signs that something could be wrong.
“Being a coach and coaching females, we had an opportunity really to reach out to not only just the players but their moms, their aunts, their grandmas, their sisters," she said.
During Teal Attack games, players are given free Teal Attack t-shirts and information on ovarian cancer from the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance based in Ann Arbor.
The next Teal Attack game is Sept. 22 when St. Mary's takes on Carleton. Teams interested in participating in Teal Attack can learn more here.
Sixty-two is the average age for ovarian cancer diagnosis, but it can occur in younger women too. A family history of breast or ovarian cancer can increase your risk of getting it, as can some genetic gene mutations like BRCA 1 and 2.
Dr. Dimitrova said research is also showing additional genes that could increase hereditary risk factors.
Karen has more PET scans this week and, after that, she'll find out if round four of chemo was successful. If it's not, she's looking into a specific type of radiation at the Cleveland Clinic.
“I just think you have to have a village behind you," she said. "And I think if you do you feel better about yourself and about the journey that I’m in.”