Dr. Beth Karlan, UCLA Medical Center
Ovarian cancer could one day become, for many women, a “chronic condition”, as researchers make significant advances in new therapies to treat the disease, according to Dr. Beth Karlan, gynecologic oncologist at the UCLA Medical Center. Already, there’s been significant progress that extends some women’s lives by many years and allows them to enjoy their lives with less of the stress and worry and physical symptoms that cancer can bring.
“Ovarian cancer tends to be one of the most chemo-sensitive tumors,” says Karlan. “So, we do have a number of different treatments that can keep women going for five, 10, 15, 20 years.”
While those women may not be living cancer-free, they are living to travel, to see their kids get married and to see their grandchildren and fulfill things on their bucket list in spite of the cancer. Ovarian cancer is a disease that a patient can learn to live with, “not just wait to die from,” according to Karlan.
She says that with a positive and therapeutic relationship with the caregiver, a focus on the quality of life and by keeping diligent, many women with ovarian cancer can live a long and full life.
The Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance offers guidance on living life with ovarian cancer:
Some of the best practices in which to engage include surrounding oneself with people who will offer support; paying attention to your own needs; asking people specifically when you need help—whether that be to bring food, come to an appointment or babysit; not comparing one’s own experience to that of another patient; taking the medication offered by doctors as support during chemotherapy; and keeping in touch with friends and family or getting involved with an organization.
The OCRA also recommends accepting how one is feeling. Dr. William Breitbart, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, shares that sentiment in a video for SurvivorNet, saying a big part of living with cancer is accepting oneself.
“What the task becomes is having the courage to live in the face of uncertainty, realizing that you cannot necessarily control the uncertainty in life, the suffering that occurs, limitations, challenges both good and bad,” Breitbart says. “You may not be able to control those. But you have control over how you choose to response to them and the attitudes you take towards them.”
It can also be helpful to join a support group. Annie Ellis, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 40, was crying during her first line of treatment when her doctor returned with a brochure for a support network called “SHARE”.
“When you’re in a doctor’s office, you might only get 10 or 15 minutes, just not enough time,” says Ellis in a video for SurvivorNet. “And so by being able to talk with each other in support group or one-on-one with a peer on the help line, you get more time.”
Ellis benefitted by joining the network. She was alerted to trusted resources to help her better understand what she was going through. And after just her first call, she felt hopeful because someone else had faced exactly what she was facing and survived.
It’s about removing the fear of the cancer and treating it like a condition, Karlan explains. She compares the idea of living with cancer to the idea of living with diabetes or another chronic condition.
“It’s going to modify how they live their lives but they are going to go on and live their lives,” she says.