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Vanity can be a weapon against ovarian cancer

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  By Patty Tiscareño / Special to the Times   5 min read 9 years ago

Vanity can be a weapon against ovarian cancer

While vanity doesn't carry enough weight to make an appearance on the seven deadly sins list, it does, nonetheless, evoke an image of a less than desirable trait. Let's face it; no one wants to hear a eulogy describing the deceased as "beloved, but a bit vain".

Taking pride in one's appearance, however, is certainly important. It creates an awareness of the importance of maintaining ourselves. It makes us eat better, exercise more regularly, and sleep more soundly.

For the sake of appearance, we apply sunscreen, drink more water, or give up smoking. Without this "healthy" level of regard for our appearance, we can be tempted to let it all go unmonitored or unkempt.

When dealing with cancer, especially ovarian cancer, I would argue that a healthy level of vanity is a valuable early detection tool to the over 20,000 women in the United States who will get ovarian cancer this year.

The eighth-most-common cancer and fifth leading cause of cancer death, early-stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms. Often, advanced stage ovarian cancer may cause non-specific symptoms that are often mistaken for more common benign conditions, such as irritable bowel or constipation.

That's where vanity can play a role.

My mother, Olga Tiscareño, possessed just the right, healthy dose of vanity that lent her a comfortable level of self-esteem. She was proud of her lovely hands, her weed-free garden and her ability to fit into a sized-eight pair of jeans.

When she began to notice changes in her form, however, she chalked up the weight gain and frequent trips to the bathroom to her age. Bladders age and muscles lose their elasticity as we get older, and after all, she was 69.

It wasn't until her previously sleek figure began to take on a shape reminiscent of pregnancy that her vanity intervened and sent her seeking medical advice.

In hindsight, I often chastise myself not seeing the warning signs befalling my mother.

As the executive director for the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation, shouldn't I have been smarter than the average bear? But ovarian cancer is often misdiagnosed, as was my mother's condition.

In fact, in a survey done by the University of Washington, out of 1,700 women with ovarian cancer, 36 percent had been given the wrong diagnosis and 12 percent were told it was all in their heads.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer mimic so many other less-dangerous conditions. These can include fatigue, getting full quickly (early satiety), abdominal swelling, clothes suddenly not fitting, leg swelling, changes in bowel habits, changes in bladder habits, abdominal pain, and shortness of breath.

What motivated my mother to further investigate the cause behind the symptoms which were causing her distress was driven by a little dose of vanity. Although her condition was advanced by the time it was diagnosed, her persistence in finding out just why she couldn't abide her tight waistband did buy her some time.

So listen to your body and even be a little vain if it is putting you through unwanted changes. I think our founding father, Benjamin Franklin, put it best. He said: "Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter, wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others who are within his sphere of action: and therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life."

Patty Tiscareño is the executive director for the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation.

This article was published on The El Paso Times on 08/18/2014

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer occurs when a tumor forms in one or both of a woman's ovaries. The symptoms of ovarian cancer mimic so many other less dangerous conditions and may include:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling.
  • Quickly feeling full when eating.
  • Weight loss.
  • Discomfort in the pelvis area.
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation.
  • A frequent need to urinate.

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