Cynthia Nelson Weiss, part of Mayo Clinic's Public Affairs team in Florida, takes her communications role seriously when it comes to awareness-raising events and promotions. Things like the Heart Walk, 26.2 With Donna, Stroke Month and Breast Cancer Awareness, just to name a few. But there's one month and one cause that hits a little closer home for her — and that's September's Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Although ovarian cancer doesn't get as much attention as some other women's health issues, more than 21,000 women are affected by the disease each year, and 1 in 75 women will get ovarian cancer in their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society. In 2004, Cynthia became one of the 1 in 75 women diagnosed with the disease. At age 33, Cynthia was an anomaly, however. Most women are diagnosed after menopause. And it took some time for Cynthia to get the correct diagnosis, something not uncommon with ovarian cancer. "It is after all called the silent killer," she says. "Its symptoms can be vague and somewhat commonplace (abdominal pain and bloating, for example)."
Cynthia was successfully treated, but her fight wasn't over. A few years later, the cancer returned. Going through that battle a second time might leave some overwhelmed, but Cynthia wanted to do something with her all-too-intimate knowledge of what women with the condition can expect. "I've now had a number of years to understand all of the ins and outs of ovarian cancer," she says. "I opted to channel my experiences and try to help others by spreading the word about the disease and raising awareness so that someday others may benefit."
She's in a great position now to keep up with the latest developments. "I've been privileged to work in health care — at Mayo Clinic — and had the opportunity to meet physicians and researchers and talk with them about this cancer, including new treatments, genetics and research advances," she says. She got to share her story and catch up on the latest research recently as a guest on Mayo Clinic Radio with Jamie Bakkum-Gamez, M.D., a Mayo gynecologic oncologist. They discussed current screening protocols, research underway to develop a test that detects the cancer at an earlier, more treatable stage, and various treatment options for ovarian cancer, among other things.
Despite having faced ovarian cancer twice, Cynthia's is a message of hope. When she began her journey, she was told that hysterectomy and oophorectomy was the only course for her. "I was distraught over the fact that I would never have the opportunity to have children the way I thought I should," she says. But today, she notes, "I'm the mom of a five-year-old, and I am more knowledgeable and informed than I was when I began my trek 10 years ago." And it's given her another purpose. "I am grateful for having the opportunity to share my story through Mayo Clinic." And to encourage others to pay attention to the signs and symptoms, ask questions and be proactive.
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