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Ovarian Cancer Doesn't Have To Be a Death Sentence

02/27/2014 05:36 EST | Updated 04/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Ovarian Cancer Canada is hosting Love Her, a series of fashion events in the next few weeks in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to raise money for, and awareness of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Canada is the only registered Canadian charity dedicated entirely to ovarian cancer. The organization provides leadership by:

• Supporting women living with the disease and their families

• Raising awareness among the general public and health care professionals

• Funding research to develop early detection techniques, improved treatments and, ultimately, a cure.

Ovarian cancer is a cause close to my heart as a good friend was recently diagnosed in December 2013. What is so frightening is that it can strike young women, and that there is currently no early screening techniques. In addition, symptoms usually do not present until it is in advanced stages, and when they are present, they are rather vague and prone to misdiagnosis.

I caught up with Bailey Urquhart, an ovarian cancer survivor, recently to discuss her experiences and why she decided to become a speaker for Ovarian Cancer Canada.

Bailey, aged 25, was diagnosed 1 year ago. What is so heartbreaking about her story is how long and hard she had to fight to get a diagnosis. Bailey had all the textbook symptoms of ovarian cancer (bloating, nausea, lack of appetite, fatigue, severe back pain), but was refused tests to rule it out by her family doctor because of her age and the fact that there are so many other things that could be responsible for these symptoms. Right from the start, Bailey had suspected it was ovarian cancer after reading an article about it in Canadian Living magazine. It took her months of pleading to get a referral to a specialist, and her family physician finally referred her to a gastroenterologist, rather than a gynaecologist.

Her appointment wasn't for weeks, and after a bout of severe vomiting following a few bites of food, she went to the ER and refused to leave until she got answers. She knew in her heart something was seriously wrong. After a series of tests, a gynaecologist arrived to break the news. It was indeed ovarian cancer. In fact, a tumour the size of a grapefruit was removed from her body. Radical surgery was performed to remove all of her affected organs which included, a complete hysterectomy, part of her colon, her appendix and 64 lymph nodes. Following surgery and a brutal recovery process, Bailey underwent 4 rounds of chemo. Normally more are required, but Bailey's type of ovarian cancer is not terribly responsive to chemotherapy.

Bailey now undergoes scans every 3 months, but is currently in remission with no signs of cancer in her body. After returning to work a few months ago, Bailey got a promotion, and became engaged to her boyfriend.

I asked Bailey what she wants people to know about ovarian cancer and she said told me that,

"You know your body best, be firm and push for answers if you think something is wrong, be your own advocate for your health, be aware that ovarian cancer can affect women of all ages. Many doctors think it just hits women in their 40s and later, but that's not true."

Her message for any woman who has just been diagnosed is,

"You do have options, have input into your treatment, and use every avenue available to get best possible treatment. "Get second and third opinions, get as many as you can so you can make an informed decision."

According to Bailey, what Canada needs to do to help conquer ovarian cancer is conduct more research aimed at finding means of early detection for the disease, increase awareness about the symptoms among women of all ages, and educate doctors better about symptoms. In fact, Bailey is part of a program called Survivors Teaching Students, which engages the experiences of survivors and their struggles with getting to a diagnosis to help doctors detect the disease earlier.

- More research to find means of early detection

- Increase awareness among women of all ages about symptoms

- Survivors teaching students (survivors educating doctors about misdiagnoses)

Bailey, who is excited about her upcoming wedding and future, is upbeat and very positive. She wants everyone to know that an ovarian cancer diagnosis does not have to be a death sentence. Early detection is key, and that means we really need to dedicate more time and resources to developing screening tools.

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