Sometimes the smallest differences mean everything. During a day my wife had sent the kids to school, finished a shift at the VA, and found a half hour to mow the lawn before her sisters would arrive to celebrate earning her nursing degree, we learned how significant small changes can be.
On that day, Pam’s shortness of breath was the latest ‘little thing’ that had become persistent and worsening. She had become more and more accustomed to constant hunger and reduced capacity to eat a full meal. She blamed her gradual weight loss on that and had sought care for general bowel discomfort without relief.
Our visits and her intuition that something was amiss grew more and more serious over the months that led to that day in May of 2006. So after her yard work she called as she drove across town to see her primary care doctor, who she’d coaxed to see her yet again in search of a solution.
Pam, a registered nurse, at the Fargo VA clinic in 2007
I was surprised to see Pam’s number calling me back so quickly. It was because she needed a ride to the CT scan they ordered, then later to the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo to review the results. By 4 o’clock that afternoon she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The shortness of breath subsided when a liter of fluid was removed from her lungs that afternoon. And instead of hanging by the pool with her family the night before her graduation ceremony, she spent her first night in the hospital as a cancer patient.
Our experience with the onset of ovarian cancer was not atypical. Pam’s fatal condition had been overlooked by us, a nurse and a pharmacist, as well as several specialists, her fellow nursing students and the critical care nurses she worked with. What quickly became reality had eluded us until an advanced stage, where survival rates drop significantly. But the new reality also gave new purpose. On day one she donated blood to a clinical trial in search of a screening tool. She later developed a presentation on awareness, served as chairperson for Roger Maris 61 for 61, a walk supporting cancer awareness, and lived as an example of courage until the day after she turned 40. Her legacy survives and in September we celebrate it especially.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Early detection and prevention are key to surviving ovarian cancer. Some symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Needing to urinate frequently and urgently
- Weight loss
Here’s more information about ovarian cancer from the Mayo Clinic.
Brent Solseng is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota employee. Since his wife’s death from 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.