I cannot tell you the exact timeframe my symptoms started in 2015. Mostly because I largely explained them away or ignored them. I was freshly 25, so I thought there’s no way something was seriously wrong with me. It wasn’t until one of my symptoms took over my life that I realized I needed immediate medical attention.
Symptom 1: No Pain
The sensation of pain is more of non-symptom for me. I had absolutely no shooting pains or pain at all with the exception of feeling very uncomfortable. Most ovarian cancer symptoms list on the interwebs state pain is one of the most common symptoms. Because I had no pain, I wasn’t worried as soon as I should have been.
Symptom 2: Constipation and Bloat
These symptoms are very much related. I thought my constipation explained my bloat. I clearly remember standing in the checkout line at Walgreens with four or five different types of laxatives and stool softeners because my usual methods of constipation relief were not working at all anymore. I was able to have bowel movements, but they never seemed to get everything out. I was left feeling constipated and bloated for the few months my tumor was growing.
Symptom 3: Fatigue
This is a very confusing symptom because there are so many other reasons one experiences fatigue. I thought my fatigue was related to my struggle with depression or that it was because I wasn’t eating “healthy” or sleeping normally. Coffee quickly became my most used fatigue fighting strategy. But eventually, even coffee didn’t help. I couldn’t keep my hands up to wash my hair, so I had to put my arms down to rest frequently. I relied on naps after work to catch up on rest which only ended up making me feel more tired and depressed. I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without taking a rest. I began to blame this on my next symptom, weight gain.
Symptom 4: Weight Gain
This is a tough one because I was so embarrassed that I was gaining weight. I didn’t talk about it with anyone, least of all a doctor who I thought would shame me into restrict my calories to lose weight. I fiercely avoided even thinking about gaining weight because it made me feel like a big fat fucking failure. This caused me to spiral into a deeper depression which made everything feel like my early symptoms belonged under the depression umbrella. I even joined a new gym to shed the additional pounds. I remember laying on my stomach to do a core strengthening exercise at the gym and felt something large pushing against my other organs. It wasn’t painful but so uncomfortable that I asked for a variation on the traditional exercise. This indicated to me that I needed to work out harder and ingest more laxatives. Obvs…?
After living with these symptoms for months, I begin to suspect that something wasn’t right. When the next symptoms cropped up was when I finally made a trip to Urgent Care.
Symptom 5: Loss of appetite
I remember sitting at a mom and pop diner in Colorado Springs and I was unable to eat more than one of my sides before I felt completely, uncomfortably full. Sometimes depression will do this to me also, so again, I explained it away.
Symptom 6: Felt Something Didn’t Belong
In a weird moment of kismet, I devoured The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (which you can find here) before and throughout my diagnosis process. The book tells the real life story of someone who changed cancer research forever, and I highly recommend it if you are not waiting for cancer test results. Henrietta Lacks is a woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer at a young age during the 50s when standard treatment included sewing bars of uranium onto the cancer site. In the book, there was a brief description of what having that kind of cancer felt like. As I read the narrative of her life and untimely death, I became very frightenend. This time, my fear bubbled up from my subconscious and became the only thing I could think about. My body felt just like her account of what cancer felt like in her body. This was the point at which I could no longer ignore my symptoms, though I still thought all of my symptoms were related to my constipation. I was sure it was a bowel obstruction or something with a quick fix.
Symptom 7: Extreme bloat and protrusion from only the left side of my abdomen
Months before realizing my symptoms weren’t going away, I planned and paid for a trip to Eastern Europe. I continually told myself that I would seek medical attention as soon as I got back. But when I woke up with a large mass pushing out of my lower abdomen as pictured above, I could no longer ignore it. I knew I had to see a doctor immediately, so I set off on my misdiagnosis-diagnosis journey. I’ll expand on that in future posts. Even still, I had no pain whatsoever. It just felt like an uncomfortable mass that shouldn’t be there.