They Told me I was Pregnant, But it was Ovarian Cancer
By Meryl Davids Landau
SERENA, 27, nursing student
In the middle of my senior year of college, I began to feel tired all the time. My strength was so zapped that I had to quit my beloved crew team I just couldnt keep up. I also became constipated. I went to several team and school doctors, most of whom initially thought I was pregnant (I wasnt), or prescribed laxatives, which didnt help much. A few months later, my waistline began expanding. Id always been fit and thin, so it upset me that my clothes didnt fit. I went to more doctorssix during the yearbut none gave me a diagnosis other than constipation. I didnt think the problem was serious, but I was completely frustrated that doctors couldnt find the cause of my fatigue and bloating.
After graduation, despite my fatigue and four-inch-thicker abdomen, I pushed myself to accompany friends to a Wyoming ranch for the summer. Within a few weeks, I felt like I had to urinate constantly; Id get up numerous times at night to use the bathroom, and Id still feel the urge when I got back to bed. One late- June morning, it became painful to swallow. I went to another doctor, who diagnosed mononucleosis. Yet I knew something else was wrong. I was so frustrated that I told him I wasnt leaving until he figured it out. He was the first to do a pelvic exam, during which he thought my uterus was enlarged. He sent me for a sonogram: It revealed an ovarian tumor the size of a cantaloupe. The doctor told me most tumors are benign, so I didnt think the worstI was just pissed off that this was ruining my summer fun. On top of it all, I really did have mono.
I went home and got another ultrasound. This time, the radiologist thought I had a stage I, grade I tumor. I cant remember anything between the pronouncement that I might have cancer and my surgery five days later, except that I was completely stunned.
The surgeon said he would try to preserve my fertility but that I might need a full hysterectomy, and that he would only know once he performed the surgery. It terrified me that I might never have children, but I knew it was important to remove the tumor. Thankfully, the fact that I could have died from the cancer didnt cross my mind.
The type of cancer I hadstage I germ-cell immature teratomadoesnt spread as quickly as the more common epithelial cancer, so he just removed my right ovary. I expected to need chemo and radiation, but the cancer hadnt spread , so I was spared that. I was lucky, but I was also determined. Not taking we dont know for an answer got me a diagnosis that was crucial to my beating the disease.