With Cancer, Timing Is Everything

January 8, 2018 10:41 pm

The following article is provided by The Clearity Foundation to support women with ovarian cancer and their families. Learn more about The Clearity Foundation and the services we provide directly to women as they make treatment decisions and navigate emotional impacts of their diagnosis.

With Cancer, Timing Is Everything

I had a family member who was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer 20 years ago and died of the disease at the age of 47. Even though her symptoms appeared a year before her diagnosis with abdominal bloating, indigestion, loss of appetite and more, the cancer escaped detection. It took a full year of visits to several physicians before the unfortunate news was discovered.

Today the classic CA 125 blood test is available and works well for advanced ovarian cancers. In fact, around 90 percent of women with advanced ovarian cancer have elevated levels of CA 125 in their blood serum, making CA 125 a useful tool for detecting the disease after the onset of symptoms. It’s important to note that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend against women with average risk of ovarian cancer having routine CA 125 screening or other screening for this cancer since there is evidence that ambiguous test results are common. But in the case of my family member, it may have saved her life.

Timing, it seems, is everything where cancer is concerned.

It’s heartening to observe how science scurries to keep up with cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are well over 100 different cancer types. If we are lucky enough to be diagnosed at a time when a new “breakthrough” occurs with our particular cancer, our odds of survival may be enhanced.

My own breast cancer was discovered by luck, or should I say lucky timing. Before my first visit with my original primary care doctor in 2014 in the state of Hawaii, I had not seen a physician for any purpose for many years. My reason for the visit was simply to “check in,” to become “officially signed up” in the system and to meet the man who might be an important ally should I catch a bad flu or be stung by a jelly fish on the beaches of Waikiki.

By the time I left his office, he had me scheduled for a mammogram to check out a very tiny bump under my left breast. An ultrasound and needle biopsy followed, and before the month was over, I was in surgery, receiving my mastectomy for stage 1, grade 3 male breast cancer, perhaps saving my life.

Timing it seems, is everything where cancer is concerned.

Those of us who have been thrown into the cancer arena learn to keep a close eye on ourselves, our bodies and our symptoms. There’s always a chance of cancer recurring.

But at the same time, I believe it’s a good idea to follow the science that occurs virtually every day somewhere in the world.

If you’re “lucky” enough to have one of the five most common cancers, you can be certain that researchers are busy trying to unearth a cure for you. If you have fallen victim to an “orphan disease” like I have with male breast cancer, there is still plenty of reason for hope, but perhaps a little luck thrown in may be a good thing, too. Every time someone benefits personally from an innovation or improvement in the quest to rid our planet of cancer (and I’m speaking of all 100 of them), each of us is advancing the whole team, the entire multitude of survivors who, like us, hope to cash in on some good fortune and perhaps some very good timing.

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