Author's Heartbreaking Story: What Are the Signs of Ovarian Cancer?

amy krouse rosenthal
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In a heart-wrenching essay, author Amy Krouse Rosenthal penned a dating profile for her husband to use after she was gone.

Rosenthal was running out of time: She was dying of ovarian cancer, which she was diagnosed with in September 2015.

"I'm facing a deadline, in this case, a pressing one," Rosenthal wrote in the essay, which was published March 3, 2017, in The New York Times. "I need to say this (and say it right) while I have a) your attention, and b) a pulse."

The essay is devoted to praising her husband's sweetness and charms, but Rosenthal also wrote about her cancer diagnosis. She had gone to the emergency room for abdominal pain that she thought was appendicitis. There, she was shocked to learn that her pain was caused by cancer. [5 Things Women Should Know About Ovarian Cancer]

Ovarian cancer, though relatively rare, is one of the deadliest cancers for women. Although it accounts for only about 3 percent of all cancer cases in women, it's the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women, according to the National Cancer Institute.

One of the reasons that ovarian cancer is so deadly is that it often goes undetected while it is still in its early stages, before it has spread beyond the ovaries, according to the Mayo Clinic.  

In the early stages, in fact, the disease rarely causes any symptoms, the Mayo Clinic says.

And although ovarian cancer does cause symptoms in later stages of the disease, those symptoms can often be mistaken for other problems, such as constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic. The symptoms include abdominal bloating or swelling, quickly feeling full when eating, weight loss, pelvic discomfort, changes in bowel habits and a frequent need to urinate, the Mayo Clinic says.

But the American Cancer Society (ACS) says, "by the time ovarian cancer is considered as a possible cause of these symptoms, it usually has already spread beyond the ovaries." The more quickly a woman recognizes these symptoms, the better the odds of successful treatment, the ACS website says.

If a woman has "symptoms similar to those of ovarian cancer almost daily for more than a few weeks, and they can't be explained by other more common conditions, report them to [a] health care professional — preferably a gynecologist — right away," the ACS says.

Another factor that women should consider is if their symptoms differ from what they normally experience.

One key to recognizing when a common symptom might actually indicate cancer is for women to know what is normal for them, Cynthia Gelb, a health communication specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Live Science in 2012. For example, women should pay attention if there is a change in how quickly they feel full when eating, she said.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.