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Ovarian Cancer Journey Inspires Advocacy for Screening

Ovarian Cancer Journey Inspires Advocacy for Screening

March 15, 2020

Toward the end of the summer of 2004, Lynn Franklin had just completed several routine screenings and tests, including her annual pelvic exam. Her results were normal. So, when the former teacher headed back to the classroom in September, she was focused on her students and not worried about her health.

But a few weeks later, the Watchung resident began feeling an unfamiliar internal pressure after she urinated. Although her gynecologist was not able to detect anything out of the ordinary and told her the feeling probably would go away, Lynn was not so sure. “It persisted, and I knew it was something that was not right for my body,” she says.

Searching for answers, Lynn – who at 54 had not yet had a colonoscopy – visited a gastroenterologist. After palpating her abdomen, the gastroenterologist told her he wanted her to have a CT scan – immediately.

The CT and an ultrasound revealed a mass on Lynn’s left ovary. The doctor referred her to Atlantic Women’s Cancer Associates, part of Atlantic Medical Group, and she underwent surgery at Overlook Medical Center.

Lynn was diagnosed with stage 1a ovarian cancer, a very early stage that has a 93% five-year survival rate. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer typically is not discovered until it is much more advanced, and women diagnosed at these later stages do not fare nearly as well: Just 5% of women diagnosed at stage 4 survive past five years.

Lynn endured three rounds of chemotherapy. But rather than feeling sorry for herself, she realized most women are not as lucky as she is.

Soon after finishing chemotherapy, Lynn began volunteering with a few organizations, including New Jersey-based Kaleidoscope of Hope Ovarian Cancer Foundation. Now its president, Lynn oversees the all-volunteer staff as it raises money for ovarian cancer research and awareness.

Ahead of the Pack on Screening

Atlantic Health System has been at the forefront of ovarian cancer screening. The health care organization is one of only a dozen institutions nationwide enrolling women in a study testing whether a rise in the blood protein CA-125 is an accurate indicator of ovarian cancer. The presence of CA-125 in a woman’s blood holds some promise as a marker of ovarian cancer. (However, CA-125 can appear due to other factors, and some women who have ovarian cancer never express CA-125 in their blood at all; so the test is far from fail-safe.) In fact, it was at Lynn’s urging that her friend since college days, Valerie Fornelius, enrolled in the Atlantic Health System screening in 2012; a gradual uptick in Valerie’s CA- 125 levels ultimately led to a diagnosis of stage 1 ovarian cancer in 2019. Had she not been enrolled in the study, it’s possible the diagnosis would have come at a later date and a much later stage.

Lynn is also involved in a cancer support group at Overlook Medical Center, as she’s a strong believer that it helps women whose lives have been affected by the condition. Her main goal, however, remains raising awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms before the disease progresses. Pay attention to things that do not seem right, she urges, which may include bloating, fatigue, feeling full after eating just a small amount, and urinating with more frequency or urgency. Symptoms also can include pelvic or back pain, changes in bowel habits and even leg pain. “We need to educate women and educate men, too. If you know something is not right with your body, follow through on it and get it checked out.”

Lynn took her own advice, and it saved her life.

The Women’s Cancer Center is evaluating periodic blood tests for early detection of ovarian cancer. Learn more by calling 973-971-6491 or sending an email . Learn more  about our research >
 

We need to educate women and educate men, too. If you know something is not right with your body, follow through on it and get it checked out.”

– Lynn Franklin