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Raising ovarian cancer awareness one teal toe at a time

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By Ada Lang

Summer is when most women and girls’ feet look their best and their toes have some color on them, and for years, red was THE color. But recently you may have seen an unusual color highlighting local toes – teal blue.

Just as pink is THE color to remind the world about breast cancer awareness, now, the color teal is trying to do the same for ovarian cancer.

As many in the community know, my friend, water quality advocate and city commissioner Sue Colson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer right before Christmas last year. Luckily, despite it being Stage 4, her “numbers” (cancer markers) keep dropping, most recently down to 13.  She had a skilled surgeon and receive top care at Shands, where ironically, she also works as a nurse for female cancer patients.

Recently, I noticed she was sporting some pretty bright nail polish - accented by rhinestone encrusted flip-flops and an ankle bracelet. Eye-popping is one way to describe it. I didn’t question why teal, because it is best to not question Sue about some things…..but, I digress.

A couple days later, she explained it anyway. It is to draw attention to the issue of (not only her feet) but also to the “silent killer,” known as ovarian cancer. As it turned out, not even her doctor knew about the significance of teal toes until Sue gave her a card on the subject.  

Why teal? According to the website: tealtoes.org, first, it just makes your toes look pretty; second, teal is striking enough to make people notice and hopefully ask about it. Third, September is, in many parts of the country, the time for one last pedicure before putting on the snow shoes, so why not paint them teal, since September is also Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month?

The website explains further:
“Too many women with ovarian cancer do not get diagnosed until their cancer has spread. Approximately 75 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage after the cancer has spread beyond the ovary. Their survival rate is 45%.
The survival rate improves greatly - to 93 percent - if the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage before it has spread. But, only 19 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed at this local stage.”

Ovarian cancer has been dubbed “the silent killer” because it has few symptoms until it is very advanced and many of those symptoms can be confused with other ailments, such as irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion. However, 95 percent of women had symptoms and 90 percent experienced symptoms even with early stage cancer. The trick is: knowing what to be aware of.

According to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, bloating or a swollen abdomen, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency), a sense of pelvic heaviness and unexplained weight gain or loss are some of the symptoms.

In Sue’s case, she had swelling in her abdomen and recurring bladder issues because the tumor was pressing down on her bladder. She was treated a couple times for bladder infections, but that really just delayed the ultimate diagnosis of cancer. When she kept not feeling like herself and came off a nursing shift where she had cared for an ovarian cancer patient. Hearing about the symptoms the woman suffered from, she realized that she needed to direct her doctor to rule it either in, or out.

There is a blood test called the CA 125, that can help diagnose the illness, but only if the woman is presenting symptoms, or doctors can conduct a sonogram or  CT or PET scans or MRIs. Treatment, if begun early enough can save a life. Generally, surgery is required to remove as much of the tumors as possible, with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, begun as soon as possible.

Don’t ignore the symptoms and don’t let the doctor tell you it is all in your head. If caught early enough, three out of four women survive one year after diagnosis and nearly half of women live longer than five years after diagnosis.

Sue probably could have or should have gone to the doctor’s sooner and she has been lucky, so far. I had an ovarian cancer scare a few years ago but luckily the pain and the spot they found with the sonogram and MRI, disappeared on its own and has not recurred.

You might not be so lucky. For more information, go to tealtoes.org, cancer.gov or ovariancancer.org