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Living with ovarian cancer

When Grass Valley resident Sam Newell was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 39, her biggest concern was her then 3-year-old son Christopher.

During doctors appointments, she spelled out words like D-I-E and D-E-A-T-H so he wouldn’t understand that the disease might take his mommy’s life.

Now 6, Christopher is well-versed on the condition.



“We’ve not kept anything from him. He knows mom has a disease. … He knows it’s a possibility that mom is going to heaven,” Newell said. “But it’s very hard for a mother to hear words like ‘surgery’ and ‘chemo’ come out of their child’s mouth.”

Newell is hoping to spread the word about the disease since September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. While ovarian cancer is the ninth most common cancer among women, it is the deadliest of gynecologic cancers. Each year, nearly 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and nearly 15,000 die of it.




“Most people think if they go in for a pap smear, they’re OK,” she said. “But they’re not being proactive enough.”

A pap smear tests for cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer. No standard test exists to detect ovarian cancer, but requesting a transvaginal ultrasound can be life-saving, Newell said.

Women should also pay attention for the cancer’s symptoms, including bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, frequent urination, and difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.

Breast cancer and ovarian cancer are closely linked; women with a history of either cancer should be especially alert.

Newell’s treatment was draining. With chemotherapy, she was in pain all day and sick much of the time.

The surgery to treat the cancer involved removing as many non-essential organs as possible, and with it, the chance of any more children.

“I absolutely wanted to have more kids,” Newell said. “I’m the oldest of five kids, so having it taken away from me was pretty difficult.”

In spite of the disappointment, the cancer has changed her perspective.

“I quit working and became a complete stay-at-home mom,” Newell said. “We chose to do things with our life that we might have put off,” such as camping and making memories with her family.

Last week, Newell flew out to Colorado to be with her friend Jeanie Tarver, a Lake Wildwood resident battling ovarian cancer. Newell was at her bedside when 51-year-old Tarver died Thursday night.

A world traveler and English as a Second Language teacher, Newell remembers Tarver as spontaneous and full of life.

“She had so much dignity,” Newell said.

But it was still saddening to see another woman dying of the same disease she had. Newell wants to use September to get the word out about an understated cancer that still has changed her life and taken away friends.

“I think the most important thing is education and being proactive,” she said.

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.


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