September recognized as Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month

By JENNIFER COHRON
Posted 9/7/18

When Melissa Alsup was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, one of the first things she did was research survival rates."For Stage 3, it was three to five years, five years at the most. I turned my …

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September recognized as Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month

Posted

When Melissa Alsup was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, one of the first things she did was research survival rates.

"For Stage 3, it was three to five years, five years at the most. I turned my computer off and said, 'Lord, I'm going to beat that with Your help,'" said Alsup, a resident of Lynn.

In the past 11 years, Alsup has fought her way through cancer five times and has lost several friends and acquaintances to the disease.

Each September, Alsup and other survivors of gynecological cancers participate in A State of Teal, a month-long awareness campaign.

The city of Jasper recently issued a proclamation recognizing September as Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month. Teal ribbons have also been placed around town as part of the observance.

Alsup also holds an annual T-shirt fundraiser in support of the Laura Crandall Brown Foundation. Based in Birmingham, the foundation provides patient support services, works to increase awareness about GYN cancers and their signs and symptoms and funds research grants for projects that could produce the first reliable early detection test to screen for ovarian cancer.

One in 72 women will face ovarian cancer in their lifetime, according to statistics available on the foundation's website. More than 22,000 women are diagnosed annually, and only 15 percent of cases are diagnosed early. 

Less than half of the women diagnosed this year will be alive in five years.

Women are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed late because symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague and can be attributed to other causes.

Alsup began experiencing back pain that radiated into her leg in spring 2007. She worked for the United States Postal Service at the time and assumed that the pain was the result of a work-related injury.

Two nerve block injections alleviated the pain.

In October 2007, Alsup experienced extreme pain during her annual OB/GYN check-up. 

A CT scan revealed a tumor the size of a softball on one of her ovaries.

Alsup underwent surgery on Nov. 7, 2007. The tumor that had been visible on the CT scan was the size of a cantaloupe. Surgeons also discovered another tumor on the omentum that was the size of a football. 

"When the doctor came in, he said there was no way that he could get it all. He said it looked like you had taken a paintbrush and splatted it against the wall," Alsup said.

Six months after completing her chemotherapy treatments, Alsup underwent chemo again because of two cancerous spots near her spine and behind her lungs that remained active.

After 18 months in remission, she went through 10 cycles of chemo.

She had been in remission for nearly four years when the cancer returned in 2015. It came back agin in 2016. 

She has been in remission since March 2017.

"I'v had 50 chemo treatments and 38 radiation treatments, but I'm still here by the grace of God," Alsup said.

From the time of her initial diagnosis, Alsup began looking for ways to give back and spread the word about the dangers of ovarian cancer.

She might have sought treatment earlier if she had recognized the symptoms of ovarian cancer: swelling of the stomach or bloating, pelvic pressure or stomach pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly of having to urinate often or feeling like you have to go right away.

Alsup's annual T-shirt sale, which is supported by students and faculty in Lynn, benefits the Laura Crandall Brown Foundation. The sale typically generates several hundred dollars.

"The $500 or $600 I send is not a drop in the bucket, but it helps somebody, somewhere," Alsup said.

For more information about gynecological cancers or the Laura Crandall Brown Foundation, visit www.thinkoflaura.org.