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Listening to Her Body

Sue Theobald knew for a while that she wasn’t feeling quite like herself.

For months, she had looked forward to vacations with her adult children, a cruise and a trip to Nashville, Tenn.

The energetic retiree describes herself as a “type A personality,” someone who likes to be constantly on the move. But when she left for her travels three years ago, her energy was gone. Every night she’d drop into bed exhausted and sleep during all of her free time.

Warning signs

“I was just tired all the time,” said Sue, sitting in her doctor’s office. “I really didn’t enjoy those trips very much.”

There were other signs of problems. She seemed to be gaining weight around her middle, her digestive system wasn’t working like it used to and her back often ached.

“I just figured that I was getting older,” says the 73-year-old Sioux Falls woman.

Sue’s children knew that something wasn’t right and made her promise to visit her doctor when she returned home. Her physician found a large mass on her ovaries and quickly referred her to Sanford Gynecologic Oncologist Maria Bell, MD.

Sue credits Dr. Bell, who scheduled her for an operation to remove the tumor the next day, with saving her life. She was able to excise the tumor and followed that treatment with chemotherapy.

“It all moved incredibly fast,” Sue said. “I’m doing so much better today and it’s because of her.”

Paying attention

Dr. Bell says that many women, like Sue, don’t recognize the symptoms of ovarian cancer right away. In addition to growth in the abdomen area and changes in bowel movements, women often experience difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, all symptoms that are often attributed to other conditions.

Women need to pay attention to the symptoms of ovarian cancer to “BEAT” the disease, the doctor said:

B – bloating that is persistent
E – eating less and feeling fuller
A – abdominal pain
T – trouble with your bladder/bowels

“People often just don’t listen to their bodies,” Dr. Bell said. “They may have these symptoms, but they dismiss them.”

Women’s risk for developing ovarian cancer does seem to be affected by several factors. Women who have more children and give birth earlier in life seem to have a lower risk. Genetic testing can identify whether a woman has a genetic defect that is responsible for some cases of ovarian cancer. Those women can get preventative treatment that can lessen their risk of getting the disease.

There is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer, the oncologist said. Seventy percent of women who get the disease are diagnosed at more advanced stages, when the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries and into the surrounding abdominal area.

“If you have persistent symptoms, symptoms that last for more than six weeks, you need to see your doctor,” Dr. Bell. “The earlier we catch ovarian cancer, the easier the treatment will be.”

Walking Back to Health

Sue has had no signs of her cancer for three years. She tries to eat healthily and keep her weight down, using water exercise and long-distance walking to stay fit.

She trains with walking sticks in each hand to maintain her balance, hitting the streets for several miles every day. Peripheral neuropathy, a numbness and pain in her feet, has been a lasting side effect from the chemotherapy that helped save her life.

“Somebody yelled at me the other day while I was walking, ‘the ski slopes are out west!’” she says, laughing. “If that’s what it takes to help me walk, I’ll do it.”

Sue, who retired several years ago after more than 50 years as a radiology technician, said she’s glad to have more years to enjoy her hobbies and family. She loves technology and recently got her fourth digital camera. There are plenty of things she wants to have a chance to see and photograph


She urges other women to heed those little warning signs from their bodies. She wishes she would have had her condition checked out before she went on vacation.

“If you’re not feeling well, take the time and go to your doctor,” Sue said. “You have to pay attention to how you feel.”

Posted Date: November 2011