I am a 17-year ovarian cancer survivor. The knowledge that my
survival depended so heavily on chance and good luck fueled my
desire to spread awareness about gynecologic cancers, cancer
health disparities, and the need for more research funding.
I was 46 years old when I was diagnosed with stage 1a ovarian
cancer. For about two years, I had experienced symptoms that could
have suggested ovarian cancer — abdominal bloating, weight gain,
frequent urination, and excessive menstrual bleeding. I know my
body and knew something wasn’t right, so I changed gynecologists
during this period to find answers and get relief, but none of us ever
To remove fibroid tumors and an ovarian cyst, I had a hysterectomy
in September 1996. During the surgery, my gynecologist discovered
the tumorous ovary and contacted a gynecologic oncologist to
complete the surgery. In so doing, she probably saved my life and
surely increased my chances of recurrence-free survival.
When my gynecologic oncologist called with the pathology report,
he told me he had good and bad news. The good news was that
I had stage 1a ovarian cancer, which is the earliest and most
treatable stage. The bad news was that it was clear-cell, the most
aggressive and least well understood ovarian cancer type.
Although my cancer was early-stage, primarily because it was
clear-cell, I received six cycles of chemotherapy — paclitaxel
(Taxol) and cisplatin (Platinol). The side effects from the
chemotherapy were typical — slight nausea and fatigue for a few
days after each cycle and hair, taste, and appetite loss — but
overall, except for one bad reaction to anti-nausea medication, my
treatment was pretty uneventful.
I finished chemotherapy in February 1997 and have not had a
recurrence of the disease. For this I am truly thankful. And although
I am still very careful about my health care, the frequency of my
follow-up CT scans has decreased.
My oncology nurse, Alice Beers, was vital to my early recovery.
She was also instrumental in connecting me with other women
who had gynecologic cancers, and I joined the Ovarian Cancer
National Alliance, which along with my family became a lifeline. The
connection to survivors who understood the disease and who were
active in helping others — even as they waged their own battles —
Although I had always been active in my community, these
connections sparked my advocacy efforts in the cancer community.
And since I passionately believe that no one’s survival and
well-being should be driven by ZIP code, race or ethnicity, or
socioeconomic status, one of the initiatives closest to my heart is
the elimination of cancer health disparities. There is no acceptable
level of the unnecessary and selective suffering and death
experienced by medically underserved populations.
A powerful mechanism for reducing and ultimately eliminating
cancer and other health disparities is research. As a matter of good
science and of good conscience, that research must be anchored
with clinical trials that include participants from all segments of the
We are all touched by cancer, and we must have the will as a nation
to ensure that every citizen will receive the level, length, and depth
of care that is appropriate for her or his condition. To do so, we
must act on what we already know and on what we learn through
One of the reasons that I advocate for others and share my
experience is to spread awareness that ovarian cancer can strike
any woman, at any age, of any race, and that it is neither silent nor
necessarily a death sentence.
Mary (Dicey) Jackson
17-Year Ovarian Cancer Survivor