Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer – Margaret Winchester’s Story

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and in recognition of that, we asked ovarian cancer survivor Margaret Winchester to share her story.

After being diagnosed with advanced (stage IIIC) ovarian cancer in 2008, I chose Dana-Farber for my care because I knew about the Institute’s cutting-edge approach to cancer care and research.

Before my diagnosis I had experienced bloating, constipation, and menstrual changes, and my gynecologist attributed these symptoms to normal menopause or aging. But after I felt a pain in my side while doing Pilates, my primary-care physician ordered a CT scan. It showed a mass.

I started my treatment with surgery, conducted by Dr. Ross Berkowitz and his team at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. They removed my ovaries, uterus, and as much tumor as possible from my abdomen, where the cancer had spread.

After weighing treatment options with Dr. Ursula Matulonis, medical director of gynecologic oncology for Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers, I joined a clinical trial. It involved taking two drugs delivered directly to my abdomen, and another given through the vein.

Since then, my doctors have used a technique called cryoablation to freeze some small ovarian tumors that have recurred, and I recently finished another clinical trial with one new drug and two standard drugs. I believe that participating in a clinical trial is critical to helping researchers develop new treatments.

Continuing my work as a child welfare lawyer has been a saving grace for me. Working gives me a sense of normalcy and focus, even if I’m more tired than before.

I am also committed to raising awareness about ovarian cancer, considered a silent cancer because it’s frequently not caught until an advanced stage. I have distributed bookmarks with ovarian cancer warning signs. Women who have symptoms should ask their doctors for tests. Listen to your body. Maybe it’s nothing, and if so, that’s great. But if it’s ovarian cancer, the earlier you catch it, the better.

Margaret Winchester is a managing attorney for the Children and Family Law Program of the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Worcester, Mass., and a Dana-Farber patient.