Back to the beginning – ‘The first symptoms’ Up to ‘Fear of Death’
Back to previous post – ‘Going to the doctor’
Upstairs in my attic room I collapse on the chair, motionless. I need a couple of minutes in silence to organize my thoughts and process the information I have just been given.
She said my lymph nodes are enlarged!
She said hospital!
She said urgent!
The story about my lymph nodes is particularly troublesome. This angle is completely new to me and there is no way I’m letting it go without further investigation.
‘To Hell, or to Connaught!’ – I tell myself, paraphrasing Cromwell’s infamous saying.
No matter what, I have to have my answers today. I am not going to wait for hospital visits, scans, tests, and all that jazz. That’s way too long.
I want to know what’s wrong with me and I want to know it today.
The key to erudition is kept by Google.
First thing first.
Let’s turn on the computer and get the tea brewing. This search is going to be extensive and the environment has to be just right to allow for full concentration.
Cup of healthy green tea nearby and cancerous cigarette in hand, I power up the computer.
There it is, my home page, white and clean, Google.
My fingers run over the keyboard.
First search string input – ‘swollen groin lymph nodes’.
As expected, the results are overwhelming and need a lot of filtering. It takes me about 2 hours to discern the relevant from the extraneous.
To spare you from all the work, this is the resume.
(specifically groin lymph nodes)
Lymph nodes are considered to be the fortresses that aid the body’s immunologic defense. They look like capsules the size of a pea.
Inguinal (groin) lymph nodes are located along the crease where the upper leg and the lower pelvic area connect.
In many cases the swelling of groin lymph nodes will go away without any medical treatment.
When the swelling doesn’t return to normal size within two weeks, and other symptoms are present, (fever, weight loss, night sweats), a consultation by a doctor is recommended.
If the lymph nodes grow rapidly, are hard to the touch, rubbery or stationary (cannot be easily moved around under the skin), there is a chance that cancerous cells might be involved. A visit to the doctor is a must.
Enlargement of the lymph nodes in the groin can be caused by a wide variety of factors. Here are some of the most usual causes:
– common infection, (bacteria), or fungal, parasitic infections
– viruses – including HIV
– sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – gonorrhea, genital herpes, chlamydia
– fatty growths – lipomas
– allergic reaction
– drug reaction
– cyst (benign, filled with fluid)
– kidney stones
– pulled muscle or testicular strain
– injury in the area – swelling goes down when the injury heals
The list is long and somewhat confusing. Basically everything, from the common bacteria, to fungus, to kidney stones and HIV can be a cause for the enlargement of lymph nodes.
But what about cancer? Can cancer be the reason for a swelling in the lymph nodes?
Yes, it can.
Cancer is always mentioned, but it’s rare and the last on the lists.
According to all of the statistics cancer is not a common cause for enlargement of lymph nodes in the groins.
However, if cancer is present, it is most often caused by a testicular cancer, or cancers of the blood – lymphoma or leukemia.
Note that although testicular cancer is cited everywhere, there is absolutely no word about its female counterpart.
No one, on no list and nowhere, mentions ovarian cancer.
I am so relieved I want to cry.
‘Thank you, God!’ – I praise the High Powers, (uselessly, I might add). ‘Cancer in the groins is rare and it’s caused by testicular cancer or cancers of the blood. I definitely, definitely don’t have testicular cancer! Neither do I have leukemia or lymphoma!’
Hallelujah, I’m saved!
But if it’s not a cancer, what is it then?
Well, what about a hernia?
True, doctor McNicholl couldn’t find a hernia simply by physical examination, but that still doesn’t mean that a hernia is not present. Only a scan can tell the whole story.
And what about the urinary infection?
I might have well had a urinary infection that went away without any medical treatment and caused the enlargement of my lymph nodes.
(And why are they still swollen today? After almost two months?)
I cling to hope.
‘Well yes, two months is a bit of a long time, but I’m sure in some cases a slow recovery can happen! Why not to me?’
Hernia, a benign cyst or an infection, they’re all the same.
In the end, the news is good: – I don’t have cancer!
(Tell me, isn’t that great?
Life is beautiful again, thank you God!)
The moments of exaltation and joy are precious, but short-lived.
Before closing the case and opening the bottle of champagne, I decide to try one more search.
Just to be safe.
(I’m coming closer).
Fingers on the keyboards and a bit of a butterfly in my belly, I launch a Google search for ‘bloated abdomen’.
As expected from such a common medical condition, the search returns hundreds of results.
Abdominal bloating is a feeling of fullness, tightness or distension in the abdomen. Bloating is different from swelling, although both of these features may be present.
Sometimes abdominal bloating may be accompanied by increased borborygmus, (also known as stomach growling, gurgling), or more seriously, a total lack of borborygmus.
Abdominal bloating is quite common and in the majority of cases will not be caused by anything serious.
Common causes of abdominal bloating are:
– irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
– lactose, fructose or other food intolerances
– gas-producing foods
– swallowing air
– uterine fibroids
– ovarian cysts
– partial bowel obstructions
And there it is. This time it’s listed everywhere.
Life-threatening, but uncommon causes of abdominal bloating include large abdominal tumours, such as those arising from advanced stages of ovarian, liver, pancreatic, colon or stomach cancers.
There’s no denying.
Although rare, if present, an ovarian cancer, can, and will, bloat your abdomen.
My heart is beating faster and I light up a cigarette.
‘Do I have ovarian cancer? Is it an ovarian that’s been happening to my belly?’
I’m definitely worried, but not yet convinced.
Remember my swollen lymph nodes?
An ovarian cancer is not listed as a possible cause for those. And in my case, they’re definitely there.
‘Neah, don’t be silly, Andrea!’ – I tell myself. ‘Just look at your lymph nodes! See how big they are? An ovarian cancer doesn’t do that!’
(oh yes, it does, but I didn’t know it then and unfortunately neither did Google)
Two thorough searches finished and three hours of intense reading, and I find myself more confused than ever. None the wiser.
The hernia version has one fundamental flaw.
A hernia can enlarge my lymph nodes fine-and-dandy, but it’s not listed as a possible cause for a bloated belly.
The same goes for the urinary infection. No bloating of the abdomen.
But a new idea is arising in my mind. The new kid on the block.
What about a benign cyst?
A benign cyst, (no mention of its nature, ovarian? uterine?) can be a factor in both the swelling of lymph nodes and a bloated abdomen.
Is that what I have then? A cyst? An ovarian cyst?
But if it’s a cyst, why not a tumour?
– ‘Ah, no! I can’t take this any longer!’ I’m exasperated. ‘Enough with the questions and the suspense already!’
For hours I’ve been beating around Google and the bush searching for intentionally vague terms, but not ever quite brave enough to perform the one relevant search that I truly need.
-‘Ovarian cancer Andrea!’ – the voice inside my head tells me. ‘Go on, search for ovarian cancer and let us end this agony!’
– ‘Alright-alright! I’ll do it!’
(I’m getting there.
The heat is surrounding me, flickering the air).
With shy fingers and the heart of a mouse, I input the third search string : ‘ovarian cancer’.
(Ding-Dong! the bells cry.
Knock-Knock! at my door.
There’s somebody there.
Dressed in dark, uninvited guest and carrier of Death.
Final and irreversible, from now on, forever with me).
Ovarian cancer search results are clean and tidy.
I click on the first link and it takes me less than a minute to achieve my goal. It’s a strange feeling, a bizarre warmth of complete, overpowering understanding pouring through my veins.
Puzzle piece after puzzle piece, they’re all coming together, sliding into place, finally at home.
My face is white, my heart is racing and I remember almost fainting in fear.
Ovarian cancer symptoms are very few and very subtle. But they fit me to a ‘T’, like a black, killer glove, stretching and suffocating, perfectly moulded on my body.
From the white pages of Google, an image stares back at me.
It’s an image of myself. A mirror.
This is me they’re talking about.
And the tears, uncontrollable avalanche of sadness, start rolling down my cheeks. It is the second time cancer makes me cry.
Not long from now, tears will be the only ocean that I will know how to swim anymore.
Ovarian Cancer by Google
– The Silent Killer –
Ovarian cancer is a cancerous growth arising from the ovary.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynecological cancers and the second most common.
It is the fifth leading cause of all cancer deaths in women.
Compared to other types of cancer, ovarian cancer is disproportionately deadly and has a poor prognosis.
It lacks any clear early detection or screening tests.
A PAP smear test will not discover the presence of an ovarian cancer.
Regular pelvic examinations, supplemented with ultrasound scans and blood tests for cancer related markers, (CA 125), have been routinely used for ovarian cancer screening, but none of these tests are specifically able to detect an ovarian cancer.
In other words, an early ovarian cancer is almost undetectable.
The vast majority of ovarian cancers are diagnosed late, in stage III and IV, after the cancers have already widely spread.
Very few women are diagnosed early, when the disease may still be curable.
Risk factors for ovarian cancer:
– Family history
(Women who have a mother, daughter or sister who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer are at an increased risk of developing the cancer. If you have a strong family history of ovarian or breast cancer you may wish to talk to a genetic counselor).
– Personal history
(Women who have had breast, uterus or colon cancer have a higher risk of developing an ovarian cancer).
– Age over 55
(Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over 55 years of age)
– Never pregnant
(Older women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer)
– Menopausal hormone therapy
(Some studies have suggested that women who take estrogen by itself (estrogen without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer).
– Drinking milk
(A Swedish study found that milk had a strong link with ovarian cancer. Those women who drank two or more glasses a day were at double the risk of those who did not consume it at all, or only in small amounts)
–Talcum powder or being obese
(It is not clear whether these are risk factors, but if they are, they are not strong risk factors).
Ovarian cancer is called ‘The Silent Killer’ because it usually isn’t discovered until its advanced, incurable stages. Early symptoms are frequently absent. When symptoms do appear, they can be very mild, subtle and vague. In most cases, the symptoms persist for several months before being recognized and diagnosed. However, recent studies have shown that an ovarian cancer is not completely silent.
An ovarian cancer whispers – so listen!
Possible early ovarian cancer symptoms include the following:
– urgent, or frequent urination
– persistent bloated abdomen / clothes too small
– pelvic, or abdominal pain
– gastrointestinal symptoms (painful gas, nausea, stomach gurgling)
– difficulty eating, poor appetite, feeling full very quickly
– vaginal bleeding (very rarely)
I read the symptoms again and again and I feel as if I’ve been dictating them myself.
Except for a very few, I have them all.
That day, at the end of July 2010, I knew.
Without a doubt, without a question, I knew.
Painfully, laboriously, the words creep out of my mouth, shuttering the silence of the room in a thousand pieces.
– ‘I have ovarian cancer’.
(take a deep breath, Andrea)
– ‘I HAVE OVARIAN CANCER’.
That repugnant, vile looking tumour, with its sickly yellowish colour cast, is slobbering all over my belly.
Eating me alive.
As we speak.
– ‘I have ovarian cancer’.
But it will take many more, long, strenuous months, and a consultation with Professor Arnold Hill at Beaumont hospital, to finally detect and recognize it.
(Because an ovarian cancer,
Back to the beginning – ‘The first symptoms’ Up to – ‘Fear of Death’
Back to previous post – ‘Going to the doctor’