A New Brunswick mother of three undergoing treatment for stage 4 ovarian cancer has a message for other women.
“Don’t ignore the warnings signs,” said Amanda O’Brien, of Rowley, N.B.
Last November, O’Brien was diagnosed with the terminal cancer at only 37-years-old. She says the cancer has spread throughout much of her body and her prognosis is grim.
“The fear of leaving my girls early, that is my biggest fear,” said O’Brien.
She adds she is spending as much time as possible “making memories” with her family.
Yet, amidst that fear and while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatments, O’Brien is also finding the strength to share her story with strangers by documenting her ovarian cancer fight though social media.
She says she hopes it will encourage other women who may be experiencing early symptoms to get checked by their doctor.
“I have often had cramping daily menstrual cramps and that had been going on for a couple of years and they are all just things that I shrugged off for a long time,” she said.
“I do not want other women going through this. It is not right, it is not fair, so I want to spread awareness as much as possible and I want everyone to stick up for themselves and their bodies.”
Emilie Chiasson, Ovarian Cancer Canada’s regional director for the Atlantic region, said roughly 2,800 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year in Canada.
“Sadly, over half of them will not survive over five years,” said Chiasson.
She adds that early stage ovarian cancer is hard to detect, partly because of a lack of research.
“There is no screening test like the pap test or mammogram available for ovarian cancer,” she said.
Chiasson said most women go undiagnosed until they reach stage 3 of the disease.
“Due to the benignness of the symptoms associated with this disease, it is hard to diagnose,” she said.
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Those symptoms include bloating, abdominal cramping, frequent urination — feelings O’Brien says she shrugged off, unaware that ovarian cancer can also be genetic. She’s currently undergoing tests to check for that.
“I have three girls. My sister has three girls and then I have another sister, so it is also very important that I find that out and spread the word to them,” she said.
Her youngest daughter, eight-year-old Nitalia Lackie, says she thinks her mother is brave for what she is doing for other people.
O’Brien’s mother, Cecilia Turple, says women are listening to her daughter’s heartfelt messages.
“People are even coming to me about the symptoms they are having and letting me know to tell her they are going to their doctor,” she said.
Turple is hoping Ottawa is listening too. She’s written countless letters to the federal government asking for more funding for research.
Ovarian Cancer Canada is hoping their request for $10 million in research funding is approved in the federal budget in February.
Ovarian cancer is drastically underfunded, according to Chiasson, compared to breast and prostate cancer.
“Given its mortality rate, it is extremely important that we have more money put to research so that we can literally save women’s lives in Canada,” she said.