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When Erin Barrett was 36 weeks pregnant, she woke one night feeling incredibly ill. After trips to the emergency room and a hospital stay, her doctors scheduled an ultrasound and discovered a surprise.
Nestled behind her ribs was a mass the size of a volleyball. Doctors scheduled a cesarean section and Barrett delivered a healthy baby girl, Edie. Two hours later, they removed the 6-pound tumor. Two weeks later, she learned she had stage 1 ovarian cancer.
“It has been a really difficult journey to balance such happiness with such fear,” she told TODAY.com.
“I call [Edie] an angel baby. If I hadn’t had her when I had her, they wouldn’t have found it. … I would have just dismissed it as hormones. I am absolutely confident this would have been missed and I would not have been diagnosed.”
Since then, friends and family have approached Barrett to ask how they can help. On Dec. 23, the Vancouver mother of two decided to share her experience and make a request — to spread awareness about ovarian cancer.
“So, if you want to help me, get on the phone, send an email (or six), grab a coffee with a woman you love and spend 15 seconds talking about this. It could save her life. And, it’ll make me happy (guilt, guilt),” she wrote.
She hoped that the message would reach 580 women. Since the initial ask, Barrett has surpassed her goal — her Facebook post alone has been shared more than 266,000 times.
“I have been very lucky that the support I've received is extraordinary," she said.
Barrett felt motivated to write her post because she wanted other women with ovarian cancer to have the same chance she had — to receive a stage 1 diagnosis instead of stage 4.
Frequently women fail to realize anything is wrong and wait too long to see a doctor. Sometimes they receive incorrect diagnoses.
Ovarian cancer, which is otherwise known as the "silent killer" presents symptoms that may easily be confused with those of other illnesses. Symptoms include:
- Abdominal bloating or swelling
- Feeling full quickly after eating, even if it is a small meal
- Weight loss
- Back pain
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea
- Feeling the frequent need to urinate
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding
Women are at greater risk if:
- They have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer
- They’ve never been pregnant
- They have a personal history of cancer or endometriosis
- They are over 55
- They underwent menopause hormone therapy
According to the National Cancer Institute, ovarian cancer is the 17th most common cancer in the United States, and one of the deadliest.
More than 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 14,000 will die most often because of late diagnoses. But recent research might make it easier for experts to understand and diagnose the disease.
Barrett’s prognosis remains positive. She's finished chemotherapy and will start radiation at the end of January for five weeks.
She finds herself struggling at times — the most heartbreaking moments for Barrett have been giving up breastfeeding, and learning that she would never be able to have more children.
But she decided her story would be an upbeat one.
“You have to laugh through it. Don’t get me wrong, there are really dark moments,” she said. “I have a newborn and I am up late at night feeding her and I am thinking, 'What if it hadn’t worked out?' I feel incredibly lucky.”