My Story Should Be the Story of Every Woman with Ovarian Cancer
An Interview with Charlotte Naschinski by Gail Whitehead
Charlotte Naschinski remembers her experience of having vague, but unusual physical symptoms that were unexpected in such a healthy, active woman. Her general physician was not concerned and related her symptoms to being over forty years old. It was not until she had her annual gynecologic exam, and she reiterated her concerns, that her physician gave her a more thorough exam. Her gynecologist prescribed a sonogram, and told Charlotte that she may need surgery for what may be fibroids or a more serious condition. She began to suspect something was more seriously wrong when the sonographer explained that Charlotte should stay and talk with a physician regarding the results of the sonogram. The physician showed her a large mass on the sonogram that would have to be removed and tested for malignancy.
The next two weeks were filled with getting done all of those things that had been overlooked by a busy woman in excellent health. She needed a Will. She needed to make sure her husband was familiar with the family paper work. The good news was that she survived the surgery, and the bad news was that she had Ovarian Cancer. Luckily for Charlotte, it was diagnosed as Stage I, an early phase in cancer progression. Unluckily, it was an aggressive form of cancer (grade 3). She would need chemotherapy to improve her chances of survival. She continued her work, her activities, but her view of herself in the world had changed.
"Cancer has become a filter through which everything passes when I think about life," Charlotte said.
After she finished treatment, she joined a cancer support group and found that she was one of the very few lucky ones. In cases where Ovarian Cancer detection happens before it has spread beyond the ovaries (Stage I), more than 93 percent of women survive longer than five years. Yet, early stage diagnosis occurs in only 20 percent of Ovarian Cancer cases in the U.S. When diagnosed in the more advanced stages, the chance of five-year survival drops to about 30 percent.
Charlotte's Ovarian Cancer was diagnosed early because she found a physician who listened when she described vague symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, and constipation. With a diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer in its earliest stage, Charlotte's chances for successful treatment were greatly increased.
Charlotte wanted to offer back to the community what she had learned. Her plan was to find a way to help health care providers on the front line, the physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants who hear about these vague symptoms from women in routine exams. She wanted to help them remember that these common symptoms could be related to Ovarian Cancer. Since those days eleven years ago, Charlotte has worked with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance's (OCNA), Survivors Teaching Students project. This program helps medical and nurse practitioner students understand Ovarian Cancer symptoms and risk factors in the hope that they will diagnose the disease early. Charlotte participates in preparing ovarian cancer survivors to speak to health care providers and facilitates classes in the greater Washington DC area.
"My hope is that these new health care providers will remember the women who helped them understand how to diagnose Ovarian Cancer earlier and save more lives. At first OCNA and its partner members were initiating contacts with medical schools. Now the medical schools are contacting OCNA requesting the Survivors Teaching Students program. The program is five years old and is in 45 medical schools!" said Charlotte.
Participating as a Consumer Reviewer for the Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Research Program, and then being a member of the CDMRP Consumer Working Group, Charlotte Naschinski has continued to find ways to move research forward to the areas of early diagnosis. "...I could have just been grateful I was one of the lucky ones, and just gone back to my job. But, as I learned from women who have since passed away, these early symptoms are not recognized as warning signs by most women or by many doctors. My story should be every woman's story so all women with Ovarian Cancer can survive."