Diane Johansen was in the best shape of her life when she found out she had ovarian cancer.That was in 2011. She had retired, had two successful knee replacements, was hitting the gym regularly and had lost 50 pounds over two years. She was planning her new future, and having already lost her husband to leukemia had decided to embrace life and “never say no” to an adventure.
But she wasn’t listening very carefully when her body said ‘no.’ At least, she didn’t at first.
“I wasn’t feeling well all the time,” Johansen says, and despite losing weight, her middle remained quite large. But she journeyed on, took Gravol while out on holidays, so she could get through dinners with friends.
Back at the gym, she was asked to help demonstrate an exercise to visiting physicians. She laid on her stomach for a stretching demonstration.
“I remember thinking ‘I feel like I’m lying on a ball’,” she says. The next time she did that same stretch, she said it felt “squishy.”
When Johansen went to her doctor, she eventually learned she had developed a 16.5 cm tumour on her ovary. And, that tumour had leaked into her abdomen.
“How did I not know?” she asks. “The tumour was so large I had burst it in the gym that day.”
She beat the often devastating odds of ovarian cancer, and is now a speaker for Ovarian Cancer Canada. She recently traveled to Chilliwack to speak about ovarian cancer with the Fraser Rotary Club.
Ovarian cancer is something we all have to be aware of, because of its quiet, insidious nature.
“I thought I was as healthy as I could be, but I was never sicker,” she says. Women often brush off the symptoms that are consistent with ovarian cancer, but she says, everyone has to be their own health advocates.
“We all have to be aware of ovarian cancer,” she says. “It affects everybody. And I can’t stress enough for people to reach out for support.”
Joining Johansen in Chilliwack was Tracy Kolwich, director of the Western Region for Ovarian Cancer Canada.
She underlined the importance of knowing the symptoms, and highlighted some of the advances being made in ovarian cancer research.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, and Kolwich noted that many doctors will never have a diagnosed patient in their entire careers. Common symptoms are bloating, difficulty eating, abdominal discomfort and a change in urinary habits. Women experiencing new symptoms that persist for three or more weeks should visit their doctor.
There are factors that increase or reduce the risk of ovarian cancers, but new research is finding that ovarian cancer is not as clearcut as it once seemed. Instead, researchers are learning that it is a spectrum of cancers. The newest research suggests that ovarian cancer, or at least some cancers, actually begin in the fallopian tubes.
That research is happening right in B.C., and has led this province’s gynecological oncologists to begin removing fallopian tubes instead of the more common tubal ligation procedures.
While tubal ligation is a way to decrease your risk of ovarian cancer, the medical community now hopes the removal surgery will provide an even greater reduction — possibly by
In Canada today, about 17,000 women are living with ovarian cancer, with 2,600 new diagnoses each year. It is the most fatal women’s cancer in Canada, claiming 1,740 lives each year. Seventy per cent of women diagnosed die within five years.
Johansen said her experience with cancer has led to her want to share her knowledge and story with everyone, to help reduce those numbers and increase chances of survival in the future.
She laughs, and adds, she doesn’t know how to die.
“I’ve gone through the process and I’m a winner,” she said.
Walk of Hope
Ovarian Cancer Canada is the only organization in the country dedicated specifically to ovarian cancer awareness. They began an annual fundraising walk in 2002, and have raised more than $19 million since then. The funds are used for supporting women and their families living with the disease, awareness and education, and in helping fund research, including new breakthroughs.
The Chilliwack Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope takes place September 13 along the Vedder River Rotary Trail.
The event includes a 2.5K walk and a 5K Fun Run.
Chairing the event are Deb Edwards and Sarah Mouritzen. To register for the event, volunteer or donate visit ovariancancerwalkofhope.ca.