By Pete Bridge
Photos By Rachel Norris
Point Park News Service
Olga George had been misdiagnosed for two years before she found out that the pains she was having were ovarian cancer.
“A lot of people were telling me ‘no it’s in your head’ or ‘no, it’s this’. I was misdiagnosed many times before finally a doctor realized what was going on,” said George, the 41-year-old survivor.
As a result, each year she attends the Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer, which was held on Sunday, Sept. 8, at North Park, to help build awareness so that women in the future won’t have to go through the disappointment she did when she was misdiagnosed.
The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s Pittsburgh chapter held its 12th-annual walk to build awareness and celebrate the survivors. Over 3,000 participants were expected at the event which is dedicated to the cancer that only leaves one in three women to survive. Participants had the option to walk on a one mile course or a five mile course at North Park.
Along with the fatality statistics, the chances at receiving a correct diagnosis are equally as poor. A NOCC survey found that, “More than two-thirds were initially misdiagnosed by their doctors.” The symptoms are commonly mistaken as fatigue or other diseases.
George, who is a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, was in the United States studying at Point Park University when she was beginning to have pains. Finally, she was diagnosed with stage-2 ovarian cancer. Luckily, she was in a city that had the medical professionals that helped her through the sickness.
“If you’re going to get a cancer, Pittsburgh is the place to be,” said George.
George said the doctors at UPMC helped her in every single step of the process once she was diagnosed.
“They were really able to get me through this. The doctors were really great once they realized what it was, they were really aggressive in getting me through the chemo and getting it done,” George stated.
The NOCC study states that George is certainly not alone in the misdiagnosis. Krista Fitch, a 24-year-old survivor who also attended the walk, was in the same situation.
“I was misdiagnosed with polyps when I was 16 and they ignored it until I was 19. I was 19 and they finally diagnosed me,” said Fitch, who attended with her mother.
George was diagnosed when she was 24-years-old and now, years later, attends the walks annually to help speak out about the cause. George knows better than most that she is needed as a survivor to help spread the word. Mary Urban, the NOCC Pittsburgh chapter manager, agrees that survivors are very few in number.
“When 22,000 women will be diagnosed with this disease annually and about 16,000 of them pass away, that doesn’t really leave us very many survivors to tell their story,” said Urban, a Strabane, Pa. resident.
Both women and medical practitioners may not have proper education on this type of cancer which could be part of the misdiagnosis problem. Morgan Moore, who was the chair of the event this year, knows that if the victim isn’t aware of the symptoms, their chances will be decreased significantly.
“My aunt was one of the people who never wanted to go to the doctor. So by the time she went to the doctor, the symptoms were so severe that they found it by doing an exploratory. It was too late, it was terminal by the time they got it,” said Moore.
As awareness hopefully increases, survivors such as Olga George will do her best to support those with the sickness. The NOCC website at www.ovarian.org provides many different options to learn more about the sickness and the symptoms. The Walk to Break Silence has raised over $150,000 which will be spent on research and educational purposes.
“For me as a survivor, it’s a means of trying to give back and bring awareness. Until I got the disease, I didn’t even think about ovarian cancer. The thing about cancer for women, I always thought about breast cancer. I never even thought about ovarian cancer, “added George.