A grieving Gonzales mom wants everyone to know that September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Licia Chaney of Gonzales lost her 30-year-old daughter to ovarian cancer in March of this year.
But the disease never broke Brandi’s spirit. Instead, she “rocked it” from her diagnosis on Dec. 21, 2010, until her death on March 10, 2012.
“Everyone who met her knew she loved life and she lived life to the fullest,” said her mother. “She loved eating, shopping, dancing and texting – she was an avid texter. She didn’t let cancer define her. She rocked it!”
Chaney, 51, said her daughter “seldom dropped tears” and she was “one-of-a-kind, always worried about other people” even when she was in hospice care dying from the disease.
“Her godmother had crocheted all kinds of hats for her to wear when she lost her hair to chemo,” she said. “She asked if it would be okay to share some of the hats with the other cancer patients at the hospital.”
She said Brandi also shared some of the new pajamas and blankets she received because she had more than she could ever use. Her mom said that’s the kind of person Brandi was – always thinking of others in need.
Chaney, who lives with husband David, said she is hurting deeply having lost her daughter to cancer; however, she is determined to go on with life and she is focused on raising awareness about ovarian cancer.
“This one would have wanted me to do that,” she said, pointing to a photograph of Brandi through teary eyes. “Besides, I have three more to think about.”
She and David have three other daughters: Nikki, 27, who is married to husband Neil Ford; Jami, 25; and, Ashli, 22, a college student.
Chaney said her grandchild Ory Nichole Ford was born 18 days after Brandi’s death.
“That was bitter-sweet,” she said, acknowledging her state of grief during what is ordinarily a most happy occasion.
No test for ovarian cancer
By the time Brandi received the correct diagnosis of ovarian cancer, she was already at Stage 4.
Chaney said her daughter never missed her annual pelvic exam which included a pap smear test. The problem with that, she learned, is that a pap smear only tests for cervical cancer – there’s no good screening test for ovarian cancer.
She said most women – even a young nurse she met recently – are shocked to discover that there’s no test for ovarian cancer.
Advocacy groups have persuaded professional cancer organizations to endorse a list of symptoms that might indicate the presence of the disease because too often doctors are dismissive of complaints of generalized discomfort. Sometimes these symptoms indicate that ovarian cancer is present at an early stage when it is most treatable.
According to the American Cancer Society, potential symptoms of ovarian cancer to look for include:
Bloating Pelvic or abdominal pain Trouble eating or feeling full quickly Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
Fatigue Upset stomach or heartburn Back pain Pain during sex Constipation Menstrual changes Brandi’s trouble started with back pain.
“Her first symptoms started in June of 2010, with constipation and back pain,” said her mother.
Brandi sought treatment from her family physician, but ovarian cancer was never discussed.
Her mother said that’s because Brandi was so young and “didn’t fit the criteria.”
Chaney said her daughter went to doctors and even saw a chiropractor for the back pain, but nothing helped.
“By October, Brandi developed additional symptoms: heartburn and diarrhea and abdominal pain,” she said. “Again, these are all symptoms that can be explained by something other than ovarian cancer.”
It wasn’t until November of 2010, that Brandi saw a specialist. Chaney said one of her doctors referred her because she continued to have painful symptoms.
“In November, she was referred to a gastroenterologist,” she said. “He was the one who found the mass and sent her to a gynecologic oncologist.”
Even so, Chaney said the doctor didn’t find the cancer right away.
“The original diagnosis was C. diff,” she said.
C. diff, or Clostridium difficile, is a deadly bacterial infection that affects the intestines.
Chaney said the doctor put Brandi on a bland diet; she wasn’t allowed soft drinks; and, the infection was treated with antibiotics.
Brandi, who was already petite, began losing weight.
“We just thought that was because she wasn’t drinking the cold drinks,” said her mother.
Chaney said Brandi never responded to the treatment and she lost a total of 30 pounds.
“Her doctor was concerned about the weight loss,” she said. “On a follow-up visit, he ordered a CAT scan which revealed a mass was growing in Brandi’s pelvic area. A biopsy confirmed it was cancerous.”
She believes if Brandi had been diagnosed sooner, she would be alive today.
“Her doctor kept saying, she didn’t fit the criteria for ovarian cancer because of her age,” she said.
The American Cancer Society reports that when someone is diagnosed in the early stages, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent.
However, due to non-specific symptoms and a lack of early detection tests, only 19 percent of all cases are found at early stages. When ovarian cancer is found at Stage 3 or higher, the survival rate can be as low as 30.6 percent.
Current statistics say for woman 35-74, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Brandi’s mother thinks this is misleading. She wants women to know that younger women can get ovarian cancer, too.
In fact, a British newspaper reported that a 9-year-old girl in the UK was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was taken to a hospital with abdominal pains and an ultrasound revealed she had a tumor. She became the youngest girl in the UK to beat ovarian cancer.
But typically, ovarian cancer is thought to affect women age 50 and older.
Currently, there is very little understood about the causes of ovarian cancer, which is why Brandi’s family and friends say more research is vital.
This year, about 22,280 new cases will be diagnosed, with 15,500 women in the U.S. dying of ovarian cancer. About 220 of those mortalities will be in Louisiana.
Survival rates for other cancers have improved dramatically recently, but much less so for ovarian cancer.
Chaney and her best friends Kim Myers and Wendy Tregre want to change that. To honor Brandi’s memory they are participating in the Teal Toes ovarian cancer awareness campaign.
By painting their toenails teal – the color for ovarian cancer – they are hoping to strike up a conversation with women in order to alert them to the potential signs of the disease and warn them that an annual pelvic exam is not enough to screen for ovarian cancer.
Myers said whenever someone asks about the teal toenail polish, she hands them a business card with the Teal Toes logo on one side, and the symptoms of ovarian cancer on the back. She said the cards are available on the Teal Toes website at www.tealtoes.org.
“Anybody I talk to, I tell them Brandi’s story,” she said.
She said they’ve already helped at least one woman.
“When we were all at Party Town ordering a banner for Brandi, we met a girl and gave her one of the Teal Toes cards,” she said. “She was experiencing symptoms, but didn’t know about ovarian cancer. I really believe somebody put us there for a reason.”
She said they stayed in touch with the girl and received a text message from her that read: “I don’t know where I would be without you three.” Her doctor found ovarian cancer in its early stages when the disease is much easier to treat.
To learn more about Brandi and her family, visit the Caring Bridge website at www.caringbridge.org, and type in brandichaney to visit her site. Also, visit our Teal Toes photo gallery at www.weeklycitizen.com to see family and friends “rocking the teal” for Brandi.