Women's Health

After Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis: What to Expect

No two people are going to experience their diagnosis of ovarian cancer in the same way. Although some emotions, such as shock and grief, are common feelings among those who are newly diagnosed with cancer, not everyone will feel their emotions in the same degree or in the same order. All cancer is scary, but ovarian cancer can seem even more terrifying due to its high fatality rate which is, in turn, due to the low chance of it being found in the earliest, and more effectively treatable, stages (Friedman, Sutphen, & Steligo, 2012).

Your Feelings

Regardless of which emotions you feel, the severity in which order you feel them, and the order that you feel them in, it will be a crucial aspect of your personal well-being to allow yourself to fully experience each on. One major reason for the importance of accepting and experiencing emotions is that they have a funny way of forcing themselves into the forefront of your lives, whether you are prepared or not. And, it seems that the longer you stuff your emotions down, below the surface, the more likely they are to overheat and spill into your life when you are not prepared to deal with them. If you have had received a recent diagnosis (or are in the middle of the screening process) and you find yourself crying a lot, snapping a lot, or feeling an overall sense of numbness, perhaps you would benefit yourself to find a quiet time to just sit and let the emotions wash over you, or through you, and then fade off to make room for the more important things in your life, like spending time with your family and preparing for your battle.

Your Family

Just as you are sure to go through a plethora of emotions, so will your loved ones, especially those closest to you, such as your children, parents, or spouse. Be as patient with them as you are with yourself, and be prepared for them to respond in completely unpredictable ways. The emotions that they go through may be similar to those that you go through, so be understanding of their own expressions, whether it is tears, shock (seemingly uncaring), or even anger (lashing out at you or your doctor). It may also be worth noting that one of the first things that many loved ones will ask is, “What can I do to help?” Be prepared and have a few things in mind to allow them to feel helpful rather than helpless. Some common things that you may need help with (either now or in the future) may be company during doctor visits or chemotherapy, child or pet care, help telling other family members, or you may actually need them to provide you with a distraction from your cancer altogether.

Staging

One of the first things your doctor will do is determine how advanced your cancer is. This process is called staging and ovarian cancer can be classified into four stages.

Stage 1

In stage 1 (stage I) ovarian cancer, the cancer cells are only found in the ovaries and have not yet spread to any other parts of the reproductive system or any other organs. This stage can be divided into 5 substages: 1A, 1B, 1C1, 1C2, and 1C3.

1A: The cancer is only located in one ovary and the tumor is only located inside of the ovary.

1B: The cancer is located in both of the ovaries, but nowhere outside of them.

1C: The cancer is located in one or both of the ovaries and at least one of the following statements are true:
1C1: Cancer cells have leaked into the abdomen and pelvis during surgery;

1C2: Cancer is located on the outside of at least one ovary or the tissue around the tumor ruptured before surgery;
1C3: Cancer cells are located in the abdominal fluid.

Stage 2

In stage 2 (stage II) ovarian cancer, the cancer is in both or one of the ovaries and has spread into the pelvic region (fallopian tubes and/or uterus). This stage can be divided into 2 substages: 2A and 2B.

2A: The cancer cells have spread to either the fallopian tubes and uterus or both.

2B: The cancer cells have grown into the other organs in the pelvic region (such as the rectum or bladder).

Stage 3

In stage 3 (stage III) ovarian cancer, cancer cells can be found in both or one of the ovaries and the cancer has either spread to the lymph nodes in the abdomen or other areas in the abdomen. This stage can be divided into 4 subcategories:

3A1: The cancer cells can be located in one or both of the ovaries, the lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen, and may have spread into the pelvis area.

3A2: The cancer cells can be located in one or both of the ovaries, the lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen, and may have spread into the pelvis area, and a biopsy will show cancer in the lining in the upper abdomen, as well.

3B: The cancer cells can be located in one or both of the ovaries, the lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen, and may have spread into the pelvis area, and cancer deposits no greater than 2 cm are located in the abdomen, liver, or spleen.

3C: The cancer cells can be located in one or both of the ovaries, the lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen, and may have spread into the pelvis area, and cancer deposits that are greater than 2 cm are located in the abdomen, liver, or spleen.

Stage 4

Stage 4 ovarian cancer is often called late or advanced. In this stage, the cancer has spread past your reproductive system and into other organs. There are two substages of stage 4 ovarian cancer: 4A and 4B.

4A: In this substage, the cancer cells have spread beyond the pelvis and can be found in the fluids surrounding your lungs. It is not yet found anywhere else outside the pelvis or reproductive system, other than the lungs.

4B: In this substage, the cancer has spread to other locations outside the pelvis, reproductive systems and lungs. These locations might include the brain, skin, or lymph nodes.

Additional Resources

National Cancer Institute www.cancernet.nci.nih.gov
The National Cancer Institute web site has some of the most recent cancer information and news from the National Cancer Institute. This agency is headed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

American Cancer Society www.cancer.org
With over 2 million volunteers and over 3,000 local chapters, the ACS works endlessly to end cancer through prevention, saving lives, education, and advocacy.

Cancer Care, Inc. www.cancercare.org
This nonprofit organization began in 1994 to offer emotional support, information, practical help, and additional support to help people with all types of cancer and their loved ones find hope and live full lives after a diagnosis.

References

Friedman, S., Sutphen, R., and Steligo, K. (2012). Confronting Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer. The John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland.

"Ovarian Cancer Stages (n.d.). [Web]. In Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Retrieved on 06/16/2017 from: http://www.cancercenter.com/ovarian-cancer/stages/