Remembering My Wife, Becoming A Cancer Prevention Advocate

By Brent Solseng

My late wife Pam taught me most of what I know about ovarian cancer, beginning when she was diagnosed in April 2006, the day before she received her nursing degree from North Dakota State University. The first lesson was how hard ovarian cancer is to detect. After her diagnosis and staging the second shoe dropped. As was the case with Pam, the diagnosis is often not made until the cancer is in advanced stages where the survival rate is low.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota employee Brent Solseng, left, with wife Pam, son Alex and daughter Shalene in 2008.

The most important thing Pam taught us was how to survive despite the diagnosis and how to live with dignity. One of the brightest examples of this was her advocacy of ovarian cancer prevention and awareness. As a graduate nurse, she prepared a presentation on ovarian cancer, its signs, symptoms and treatment. Since Pam’s death, my daughter and I have continued delivering the presentation to interested women’s groups around the area.

Experts agree that a more conclusive screening instrument is needed to detect ovarian cancer, which has the highest mortality rate of all types of gynecological cancer and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among women. This makes education and awareness so important when it comes to early detection and prevention. Pam survived until December of 2009, long enough to impart a spirit of advocacy in her family. When I talk to folks about ovarian cancer, I feel it’s her voice speaking.

Pam served as the 2007 Honorary Chairperson for Roger Maris 61 for 61, an event supporting cancer awareness (this year’s run/walk will be held tomorrow on Saturday, Sept. 29). As 61 for 61 approached this year, I was reminded how insidious ovarian cancer is by a recent Washington Post story. The story mentioned how the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force discourages screening for women considered to be at “average” risk for ovarian cancer. But who is at “average” risk?

Here are some ovarian cancer risk factors from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that all women should be aware of:

  • Women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, the Lynch syndrome or a family history of ovarian cancer are at increased risk.
  • Women with an increased-risk family history should consider genetic counseling to evaluate their risk.
  • If you have two or more first- or second-degree relatives with a history of ovarian cancer or a combination of breast and ovarian cancer you are generally considered to be at increased family risk. Women of Eastern European Jewish descent also have a greater risk of contracting ovarian cancer.

If women experience symptoms or have a family history of ovarian cancer they should see a doctor. Potential symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, persistent urinary or bowel movements or pelvic or abdominal pain, having a difficult time eating or a feeling of being full when you haven’t eaten. One of the challenges often associated with ovarian cancer is that it is often not diagnosed until it is in the late stages when survival is less likely. But recent studies have concluded that symptoms are much more likely to occur in those with ovarian cancer than the general population.

All this makes education, awareness and self monitoring so important. Make sure you and the women in your life are aware of the symptoms and risk factors associated with ovarian cancer so you can help prevent what happened to my wife from happening to them.

Brent Solseng is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota employee. Since his wife’s death to ovarian cancer in 2009, Brent has become an advocate for early detection of ovarian cancer and gives presentations to women’s groups about the disease.

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