Ovarian Cancer Doesn’t Care {A Local Mom’s Story}


At 23, most young adults are graduating college, sending out grad school applications and snagging first jobs. They have completed the first leg of the “adulthood” race and they are going places. At least, that is what my Facebook feed implied as I scrolled through what seemed to be endless graduation pictures. I scrolled in frustration as my arms got tangled in a knot of IVs and wires. As for me, the only places I was going were to my daily chemo infusions then back to my bed where I would lay still, eyes shut, trying not to throw up.

At this point in my life, I had already experienced my share of tribulations. By my last semester of college I had been married, divorced and started all over again with a baby girl in my arms. I was working 2-3 jobs and balancing a full load in college. I was so ready to run across that stage with that expensive piece of paper in hand and ride into the sunset where I would land my dream job and we would live happily ever after. But during the first week of my last semester, I was rushed into an operating room with a gripping pain that shot from my abdomen to my shoulder blades. The next morning I awoke to a missing ovary and a cancer diagnosis. ovarian-cancer-awareness-survivor-karyn-corpus-christi-moms-blog

Ovarian Cancer: Stage 1C3. Type: Immature Teratoma.

For over a year I unknowingly had two large tumors, one the size of an apple and the other large enough that it contained 1 liter of blood, growing inside of me. I was told that my two year old daughter may have helped slow cancer from spreading to other organs in my body. (Thank you, full term nursing!) However, the tumors were large enough that they had engulfed my left ovary. One of them had burst, leaving little cancer cells to spill over and out into my body. I would need treatment.

I remember thinking, No big deal. This must be one of those “little” cancers that young people get and live to tell about.  Calmly, I told my doctor, “I only have 3 months left of school. Can’t I just finish up my degree and then do the whole cancer thing? I’m single, I have a 2 year old and I just can’t afford to not work or complete school.”

With sympathetic eyes, he shook his head. I would have to begin chemotherapy… immediately. Oh yes, this cancer was the fatal kind and was no respecter of persons.

The next few months were a whirlwind of treatments and doctor’s visits. I had a medical port surgically placed in my chest with a catheter that went directly into one of my large arteries. During treatment, my nurses would sterilize the area, and then stick me with a needle that would deliver lifesaving poison from hanging bags of fluid straight into my veins. I often prayed that this whole situation would magically dissipate. God responded with help rather than immediate relief.

I had friends who pitched in to help pay my rent while I was out of work. My counselor coached me through coping with the changes in my body like hair loss and weight gain. (Yes, some cancer patients GAIN weight.)

My mother kept my little girl entertained when I could barely stand. She calmed her at night as she learned that mommy could no longer nurse her because mommy was sick. ovarian-cancer-awareness-month-karyn-wear-teal-corpus-christi-moms-blog

All of these people helped meet the most basic of needs, but most importantly, God gave them the means to assist while He comforted me. I whispered pleas for peace as I writhed in that ugly chemo chair through what I later learned were drug-induced anxiety attacks. His peace washed over me through all the pain, even on my worst days.

When it was all said and done, my oncologist told me that there was no evidence of disease in my body, N.E.D. He could not tell me that I was in remission because there IS no remission for Ovarian Cancer survivors.  The recurrence rates seem inevitable, thus, many doctors shy away from the word “remission.” According to www.ovariancancer.org , The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer  is 46 percent.  Not even half of those diagnosed survive!

On the upside, if there is an upside to these situations, the prognosis for those diagnosed in early stages have higher survival rates. The downside is that less than 15% are diagnosed in those early stages. Symptoms of ovarian cancer are easily dismissed as common ailments people have from being stressed, overworked, or experiencing PMS or usual indigestion. Such symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Frequent urination or urgency
  • Constipation
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Menstrual changes
  • Pain during sex

*And let me write a disclaimer here, PAP SMEARS CAN NOT DETECT OVARIAN CANCER. There is no test for Ovarian Cancer. You must watch the signs and speak up!*

You might think, “ I have these all the time! How do I know if I have cancer?”  Oncologists, also known as cancer doctors, advise that if one or more symptoms last 2 or more weeks, you should consult an OB, or better yet, see an OB Oncologist because Ovarian Cancer often masquerades as other gynecological issues like cysts. An OB Oncologist has the expertise to know the difference. If you are a young woman, I would advise going straight to an OB oncologist simply because there is an unfortunate history of young women (even children) being dismissed for their cancer concerns, simply because of their age.  This cancer does not care.

As I noted earlier, immediately prior to my diagnosis, I was in college, working 2-3 jobs, raising a 2 year old, and pretty much burning the candle at both ends (like most moms do.) At the time, my complaints were nothing short of ordinary. After a long day, I was tired and I had some lower back pain. I had gained a little bit of weight and was often gassy at night. I noted I was a little constipated but was urinating frequently. I also noticed that I had stopped sleeping on my stomach because of persistent tummy troubles. Considering how busy I was, I figured that I was not eating well and that caused an increase in my girth, and understandably, maybe some back pain from the extra weight I was carrying. Although I had all these little symptoms, I never viewed them collectively, and at 23, never drew the conclusion that it would be cancer! Like many OvCa survivors, I wish I had known.

This story does have a happy ending. After about four months of chemo, I returned to school and received the bachelor’s degree that I so longed for. I accepted a “grown-up job,” as I like to call it, and have had an entire year without evidence of disease. It’s been an amazing ride. ovarian-cancer-awareness-karyn-and-daughter-graduation-corpus-christi-moms-blog

This September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Our color is Teal, just like other gynecological cancers. You can wear it to help raise awareness, but if I could ask you to do one thing, I would encourage you to take some time and listen to your body. Track your symptoms. A good free app for tracking is OCA Diary; you can find it in the app store.

No excuses, ladies. Take care of yourselves. Your friends, family, and babies need you to #fightlikeagirl.

About Karyn

Karyn attended Grand Prairie I.S.D. and graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in 2015 with a degree in English. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college and did so, not only while raising her daughter and overcoming divorce, but after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer and undergoing three months of chemotherapy. Karyn is a hard working and determined fighter who is an inspiration to her daughter, Lyla, and those who know and love her. She currently works for a non profit as an Independent Living Specialist, helping individuals with disabilities achieve their goals. In her spare time, she enjoys singing in the choir at First Presbyterian Church or hanging out with Lyla. Karyn’s future plans include attending graduate school in hopes of better helping others.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your story with us. So many of us are really unaware of what to watch for. You are a brace to share and spread awareness! Thank you so much!

  2. Wow. Just wow. What youve gone through is awful. Your strength, poise, and fighter spirit is amazing. God bless you always

  3. Karyn, you are such a strong woman and a wonderful mother!! I am so thankful that I have gotten to know you and your beautiful daughter!! I pray that the Lord continues to use you in a mighty way! 🙂

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