HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ovarian cancer is known as a silent killer. More than 21,000 American women are diagnosed with the disease each year. About 15,000 of them die from the illness. Now some brave women are sharing their stories as part of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month.
Gayle Goshi just celebrated her 53rd birthday. She works full time and enjoys taking trips with her husband, but three years ago she found out she had stage III C ovarian cancer.
"I know with this illness that I have, the staging that it was found to be, that there isn't a cure for this. This is more of a management or control of the disease so it doesn't keep progressing," said Goshi.
The discovery came after she volunteered as a healthy donor for a study at her workplace, Clinical Laboratories of Hawaii. Some troubling results prompted her to call her doctor.
"I had a CT scan done, and actually within 8 days, I went from thinking I was a healthy volunteer to having surgery," recalled Goshi.
446 women in Hawaii had ovarian cancer between 2000 and 2005, according to the latest figures from the Hawaii Tumor Registry and the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii.
"I had no symptoms. I mean the symptoms that you read about - the bloating, the urinary frequency, just not feeling well, things like that - I never had any of that," said Goshi.
Ruth Merz, 65, realized something was wrong in February 2009.
"I noticed that when I laid down, I could feel my fibroids, what I thought were fibroids. I thought, 'Gee, I'm in menopause. They shouldn't be getting bigger, they should be getting smaller,'" Merz said.
At the same time, her professional career came to an end. She served as the administrator for a Department of Health program that was suddenly shut down.
"You can either curl up in your bed or on your couch and say, 'Forget it, I'm gonna die anyway' or you can say, 'No way, Jose is this gonna get the better of me,'" Merz said.
Ruth turned to Hui Malama O Ola, a support group for women with ovarian cancer, now celebrating its 20th anniversary.
"Sometimes you cry a little, but mostly we just try and laugh," Merz said.
The disease usually strikes women over 45, but survivor Susan Chinn was diagnosed at the age of 35.
"I had no symptoms. I was slightly bloated. I had no idea," Chinn said.
In 2007, she and her husband were trying to start a family. Susan's doctor found the cancer during her preparations for in vitro fertilization.
"Infertility really saved my life," said Chinn.
Fewer than 20% of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed at an early stage due to the subtle symptoms.
"Know your own body, and advocate for yourself," said Merz.
Members of Hui Malama O Ola hope to raise the survival rate by putting a face on the devastating disease. In April, they met with future nurse practitioners at UH Manoa to offer a lesson that can't be found in a textbook.
"Perhaps when a patient comes in with the symptoms, that maybe they'll think 'Oh, this could be ovarian cancer.' And that's the whole point, that's what we want. And if just one person remembers that, then our job is done," said Chinn.