SAN ANTONIO – Even eight months later, June Salazar said she can remember everything that happened on Jan. 25, 2023.
“I was terrified,” Salazar said. “I felt like I was already given a death sentence.”
Doctors diagnosed Salazar with Stage 1 ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the ovaries for every one in 78 women.
There is no easy way to detect this cancer and doctors said its symptoms are often vague.
September marks Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and Salazar said she wants more women to be on the alert.
“I knew that there was something wrong and I just put it off,” Salazar said.
Salazar said before being diagnosed, she was bloated, had severe cramps and was experiencing hip pains. It was when that pain became unbearable that she went to the Emergency Room.
After scans, doctors found two masses on her ovaries. Salazar said she opted to have a hysterectomy with her doctors’ recommendations.
After the surgery, doctors were able to confirm that it was cancer.
“They took everything,” Salazar said. “They took my ovaries, my fallopian tubes, my cervix, everything.”
Dr. Yasmin Lyons is a gynecologic oncologist with UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Lyons said ovarian cancer is ranked fifth in cancer deaths among women. She said knowing the signs and symptoms can help reduce a woman’s risks.
“Unfortunately for ovarian cancer, there’s no good way to screen for it, meaning to try and detect it early,” Lyons said. “Typically, people aren’t diagnosed until the cancer has already spread from their pelvis up to their upper abdomen.”
Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, and the frequent need to urinate.
UT Health reports that women who are middle-aged or older, who have a close family member who has had ovarian cancer, those with an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background, or someone who has never given birth or has had trouble getting pregnant are most at risk.
Lyons said ovarian cancer is often detected through a combination of pelvic exams, imaging tests, Ultrasounds, CA-125 Blood tests and CT scans.
“Without having that actual tissue, we don’t have a diagnosis yet,” Lyons said. “I like to tell my patients, let’s just take it one step at a time.”
Dr. James Wilder, a gynecologic oncologist with the Baptist Health System, said the persistence of symptoms is what to keep an eye on.
“It is a disease that has improved in the treatment,” Wilder said. “People are living a lot longer.”
After a hysterectomy and chemotherapy, Salazar was declared cancer-free on Aug. 31.
While the cancer could come back, she said all she can do is hold on to hope and hold on to her family.
“Cancer doesn’t care who you are,” Salazar said. “It doesn’t care how much money you have. It doesn’t care about if you’re a good person. From my diagnosis, I tried to read as much as I could.”