Women's Health

Ovarian Cancer Survivor Dedicates Herself to Helping Others

Photo source: ChicagoDefender.com

July 11th, 2014 is a day LeToy Hannah will never forget. She had gone into surgery to remove a non-cancerous cyst on her ovary and came out with a stage 3C ovarian cancer diagnosis. Hannah was shocked; her mother had to make the call to do a complete hysterectomy to remove all visible cancer while Hannah was under anesthesia.

Prior to surgery, Hannah was having symptoms like abdominal bloating, feeling full sooner, pressure in her pelvis and abnormal bleeding. Eventually, the pain became so severe in her lower back that her gynecologist ordered an ultrasound thinking she had a fibroid cyst, which runs in her family.

Discovery of the cancer

In the ultrasound, there appeared to be a benign cyst on one of Hannah’s ovaries. Her gynecologist told her that surgery was the best option to remove the cyst, therefore relieving her symptoms. When she woke up from surgery, she was overwhelmed with emotions.

Hearing the word ‘cancer’ has a huge negative connotation. She thought of her children who were 8 and 11 at the time. She thought, how could this have happened to her? How could this small cyst actually be a cancerous tumor? And why did this happen to her? But she quickly pulled herself together to move forward as a survivor.

Hannah had to attack her recovery on multiple levels. She used chemotherapy and holistic means to combat her ovarian cancer diagnosis. Hannah believes in a higher power; she became very involved in her church family, praying daily and claiming healing of her body.

She thought of many of her friends who were no longer here because of cancer. It scared her a little but also drove her to push herself and to encourage others through her journey. In the United States, there will be 22,440 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017 and over half of those diagnosed will die, according to the American Cancer Society.

For women, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths. And a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime is about 1 in 75. These statistics were shocking to Hannah. She set out to start a foundation to help others learn about ovarian cancer.

7/11 Discovery To Recovery and Teal for Toy

Hannah started 7/11 Discovery To Recovery Foundation with the mission to save lives through properly educating women of the signs, symptoms, and causes of ovarian cancer. The foundation aims to provide support to women in their early stages of diagnosis through recommendations, and financial and moral support.

Teal for Toy was also started through the foundation. Teal for Toy’s goal is to host events to empower women affected by ovarian cancer diagnosis and to bring about public awareness of its silent symptoms. Through Teal for Toy, Hannah works to educate women about early detection of the disease.

She also wants to educate women and their families by tapping into their emotional, informational, physical, and spiritual needs. In the past three years, Teal for Toy has committed itself to the miseducation of ovarian cancer diagnosis through Hannah’s community speaking and socializing events.

Hannah says Teal for Toy has assisted multiple women with early preventative diagnosis and testing. Currently, she is helping one woman with her medical expenses as she battles her ovarian cancer diagnosis.

At a recent Teal for Toy event in Country Club Hills, Illinois, Hannah said two ladies came up to her telling her they caught their ovarian cancer early because they had heard of Hannah’s story. Some of the symptoms Hannah experienced the women also encountered but they were able to catch their cancer at an earlier stage than Hannah, giving them a better prognosis.

Common risk factors

Hannah wants other to be aware of common risk factor of ovarian cancer. Risk factors like age; two thirds of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over the age of 55. Family history also plays a large role. A woman whose mother, sister, grandmother or aunt who has had ovarian cancer is at a higher risk of developing the disease themselves.

Genetics - some women affected by ovarian cancer have genetic mutations in the BRCA1 and or BRCA2 genes. Women with BRCA1 have a 35-70% higher risk of ovarian cancer. Women with the BRCA2 mutation have a 10-30% increased risk.

Lynch syndrome is also a genetic condition characterized by a higher risk of cancers in the digestive system, gynecologic tract and other organs. Peutz-Jeghers syndrome is another genetic condition increasing the likelihood of developing polyps in a person’s digestive tract and several types of cancer in the breast, colon, rectum, pancreas, stomach, testicles, ovaries, lungs and cervix.

Other prior conditions like breast cancer, colorectal and endometrial cancer have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

There are some lowering risk factors as well, including: childbearing status, birth control, and gynecologic surgery. Women who have delivered one child before age 30 are at a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. The more children a woman has, the lower the risk. And breastfeeding mothers lower their risk even more.

Women who have used oral contraceptives for at least three months are at a lower risk of ovarian cancer. The longer the pill is used, the lower the risk and the risk remains lower even after oral contraceptive use has stopped.

Finally, women who have had gynecologic surgery like a tubal ligation or hysterectomy, even without removing the ovaries, reduces the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Common ovarian cancer symptoms

According to the American Cancer Society, only about 20% of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in an early stage. In most cases, the cancer has spread and progressed to an advanced stage before being diagnosed. Symptoms either are not apparent in the early stages or they mimic common stomach and digestive issues that are often mistaken for minor ailments.

Ovarian cancer cannot be diagnosed by a routine Pap smear, unlike most people believe. There is no reliable screening test to detect ovarian cancer. It is very importance to pay attention to symptoms and to tell your gynecologist right away if you are experiencing any ovarian cancer symptoms.

Common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal bloating, indigestion or nausea
  • Changes in appetite, such as a loss of appetite or feeling full sooner
  • Pressure in the pelvis or lower back
  • A more frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Increased abdominal girth
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Changes in menstruation

Common symptoms of cysts or tumors include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain shortly before or after the start of your period
  • Pressure, swelling or pain in the abdomen
  • A dull ache in the lower back and thighs
  • Difficulty emptying your bladder
  • Pain during sex
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Nausea or vomiting

Hannah is bound and determined to spread the word about ovarian cancer and Teal for Toy. If you notice any symptoms or are concerned about risk factors, Hannah urges you to schedule an appointment with your gynecologist.

A gynecologist can perform a pelvic examination to detect and feel a mass. An ultrasound may then be used to determine the size, shape, location and composition of the mass to further recommend treatment options. Treatment could be to remove the mass or to monitor it. Either way, being aware of symptoms and talking with your doctor is the best option.