Tri-state ovarian cancer survivor gives hope

Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 10:33 PM CDT
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QUINCY (WGEM) - September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. In 2019, there were 1,358 new cases reported in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri combined according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I really thought oh, it’s probably just a mass like my right kidney, you know, so it was really kind of a shock to me and a surprise too,” Julie O’Leary said.

O’Leary said doctors found a benign tumor in her right kidney in 1998.

“So they just kind of left it alone because I really don’t have much symptoms with it,” O’Leary said.

She went in for a routine check-up back in March, when she said doctors found a mass in her left ovary that turned out to be stage III ovarian cancer.

“So I started the chemo then and was supposed to do six rounds and I got to four and my platelets were really, really low and they couldn’t get them back up like they should,” she said.

O’Leary said she has no family history of ovarian cancer and that genetic testing showed no mutations.

“So it makes you kind of wonder okay, then how did I get cancer? And I think if you would worry about how you got it, it’s going to drive you nuts,” O’Leary said. “It’s accepting that you have it and going on with it.”

Blessing Cancer Center Dr. Kellie Flippin said pap smears generally used to screen for cervical cancer, have also helped doctors detect ovarian cancer.

“It’s very difficult because we don’t have one single screening method to detect ovarian cancer. It’s not like having a mammogram for breast cancer or a colonoscopy for rectal cancer,” Flippin said. “Unfortunately we tend to see this very late because the symptoms don’t really show until they’re much later on.”

Flippin said that’s why early detection is important.

“It is the only way that we can cure the cancer,” she said. “It is generally considered incurable once it’s been metastasized.”

O’Leary encourages you to be in tune with your body and tell your doctor when you feel something is off.

“Just be strong and make sure you have your checkups and if something doesn’t feel right, make sure you get in the doctor and ask you know what’s going on. It’s your life,” O’Leary said.

Flippin said you should see if you have a family history of breast, prostate or ovarian cancer because that could increase your chances of developing ovarian cancer.

She said those factors increase the likelihood that there’s a BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation within your family that can lead to cancer.

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