OHSU

Ann's Ovarian Cancer Story

Ann Werner

When my doctor said “you have advanced ovarian cancer,” I was thrown into a world no one would choose. Rather than seeing a distant horizon ending with beautiful golden years, I was suddenly looking at a horribly shortened life overstuffed with hospitals and medical treatments. All women understand the fear that comes with that diagnosis.

But what we don’t understand is that there ARE symptoms and there ARE specialized surgeons who can make a difference in survival.

Some say that ovarian cancer is a “silent killer” because women don’t feel symptoms until the cancer is advanced. But, way too frequently, women disregard their symptoms of bloating, change in bowel habits, and discomfort until the symptoms have persisted for a long time. No one likes to go to the doctor. Belatedly, a woman goes to a doctor who is usually NOT a gynecological cancer specialist and who says she has irritable bowel syndrome or is “getting older.” Repeated tests, more doctor visits, and time pass until she is finally diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. This delay is deadly, yet there are hundreds of thousands of stories just like this one.

We must pay careful attention to our bodies, to how we feel, and notice if a change persists or is uncomfortable. If that feeling involves a change in bowel habits, bloating, or discomfort in the abdomen and persists for a few weeks, then a gynecological oncologist should be seen. Tests are available to help: the CA-125 is a blood test that sometimes accurately measures cancer proteins, a trans-vaginal ultrasound gives more localized information, and a biopsy might be needed. The tests aren’t fail-safe but they inform and that helps with diagnosis.

Like many women, I had no idea there were specialists in gynecological oncology. I had never known someone with ovarian cancer. But, I was very lucky: my existing doctors practiced at OHSU. While I had no clue how to solve my symptoms, I was at a top rated medical facility that DID know and put me in the care of superb surgeons: a gynecological oncologist (Dr. Tanja Pejovic) and colon surgeon (Dr. Brett Shepard).

It has been documented that having an experienced gynecological oncologist for a surgeon results in more cancer being removed which is directly linked to better success in treatment.

As Jimmy Buffett says about life: “some of it is magic and some of it is tragic.” Let’s seek the magic…and let’s reduce the tragic by paying attention to our bodies and choosing the best medical care when we need it.

Ann Werner had surgery at OHSU in November of 2003 followed by a clinical trial of chemotherapy that ended in May 2004.

Ann's mother, Jane Werner established the Jane Werner Ovarian Cancer Fund to help ovarian cancer patients with financial need.

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