Ovarian Cancer — A Survivor’s Story

By Lauren Wanko

“About 25 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through chemotherapy and radiation. Then in 2010 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” said Deborah Donato.

Cancer survivor Donato knows how to stop and smell the roses. She watched her mother die from ovarian cancer and at 60 years old, Deborah began her own fight against the disease.

“My faith is very strong and I just knew that it was gonna be ok,” said Donato.

She already had a hysterectomy and wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. Her ob-gyn spotted a mass during her yearly exam and after surgery, she was diagnosed with Stage three ovarian cancer.

“I said to my doctor, um, that’s very close to stage four. He said ‘but it’s not stage four’, so I said let’s get rid of it,” Donato said.

“Ovarian Cancer is a very aggressive disease. That is the fifth most common cancer in women in the United States. It affects about 20,000 patients per year, about 14,000 patients will die from ovarian cancer,” said Meridian Health Dr. Karim ElSahwi.

The New Jersey Department of Health indicates 3,513 women in the state were diagnosed with ovarian cancer from 2008 to 2012 — an average of 702 per year.
 2,338 women in New Jersey died from ovarian cancer during that same time period — an average of 466 per year.

“A women’s lifetime risk of developing Ovarian Cancer is about 1.5 percent,” said ElSahwi.

ElSahwi says the patients most at risk are those with a genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers. Other common risk factors include never being pregnant, early onset menstruation or late menopause.

“Being on the birth control pill five years or more decreases your risk for developing ovarian cancer to about .5 percent so that’s a 50 percent reduction in risk of developing cancer,” ElSahwi said.

Elsahwi says most women with early ovarian cancer typically don’t experience any symptoms, however women in later stages usually develop abdominal and or pelvic pain, urinary symptoms, like urgency, bloating, or a feeling of fullness.

There’s no standard screening test for ovarian cancer says. Dr. Elsahwi. Most patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage after a physical exam and imaging studies, like a transvaginal ultrasound. Donato’s cancer relapsed three times.

“Each time there was a reoccurrence we would try different medications, different therapy, chemotherapy,” Donato said.

Elsahwi recommends women visit their gynecologist yearly for a physical exam and discuss symptoms and family history. Donato’s on oral personalized, therapy and cancer-free.

“I absolutely refuse to give up, I feel like I’m in this fight not only for other women and myself, my mother, in her memory. Until my last breathe I’m not giving up,” said Donato.