September declared “Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month” in state
By Whitney Skeeters
It is estimated that more than 15,200 American women will have their lives cut short in 2008. Dubbed “the silent killer,” ovarian cancer has a survival rate of a dismal 20 percent and affects one in 57 women.
Ovarian cancer is often described as “silent” because it creeps into the body and wreaks irreparable havoc before women notice any discernible symptoms. It develops when cells in the ovaries begin to grow out of control and the abnormal additional cells form a tumor. The tumor puts pressure on other organs surrounding the ovaries, and eventually these cancerous cells can move into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body.
Beverly Bentley, lifelong resident of Morgan County, has defied and continues to defy the statistics as a 10-year survivor of ovarian cancer. Beverly uses her seemingly endless source of strength to help other women who have been given insurmountable obstacles. She is the president and founder of the Georgia chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and is working to become a certified counselor.
Although she has overcome hardships many never come close to experiencing, Bentley remains good natured about her situation. She jokes that she is “the poster girl for how you could’ve had every symptom of ovarian cancer and continually been misdiagnosed.”
One of the reasons ovarian cancer is so deadly is the fact that most women know little about it or how to identify the symptoms. Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often attributed to the flu and other illnesses.
Bentley did everything she was supposed to: she never missed a yearly check-up, she reported nearly everything to her doctors, and when she began feeling sick, she went to doctor after doctor searching for a second opinion. For a year, she experienced several problems including constant indigestion and exhaustion. However, no doctor could put the pieces together to tell her what was really causing her pain: she had cancer.
“Everyone could explain all of the symptoms away,” said Bentley. “Everything they said made sense.”
It wasn’t until 1998 that Bentley finally had an ultrasound and her doctor found a large mass on her left ovary. At that point, everything fell into place and Bentley began cancer treatment.
Upon further investigation into her new illness, Bentley made a startling discovery.
“I could not find any information anywhere,” said Bentley. “I was basically alone, I didn’t know anyone who had ovarian cancer and I just needed some support. There was an ignorance about it then, and there still is.”
After learning more about the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, Bentley decided to start a Georgia chapter for herself and for Georgian women like her. She wanted to educate women about ovarian cancer and did not want anyone else to have to feel as alone as she did.
“I was irate that I had done all the right stuff, and yet my doctors never mentioned ovarian cancer or the signs to look for. I just thought that when I got my check-up, that took care of everything,” said Bentley.
The year she spent turning around in circles trying to find out what was wrong with her was precious time wasted.
Bentley’s chapter places literature on ovarian cancer in doctors’ offices, health departments, salons, gyms, pharmacies, and other places women tend to go. They also host awareness events, such as fashion shows, art exhibits and “Dessert with the Doctor,” where an expert speaks and answers questions on ovarian cancer.
September has been declared Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in Georgia.
Bentley’s goal is for more women to realize the danger of ovarian cancer. Although it is relatively rare, it kills more women than any other gynecologic cancer. Symptoms are hard to pinpoint and we still do not have a definitive testing process for it.
“Women need to listen to their bodies,” said Bentley. “Be proactive. If you don’t assert yourself on behalf of your own health care, nobody else is going to. And if you need me, I’m out there.”