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Denise won’t be beaten by ovarian cancer

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Fighting hard: the late Devoye Darrell, left, and Denise Richardson, during last year’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness month (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Denise Richardson starts every morning thanking God for another day.

The 54-year-old has been battling cancer, on and off, for five years.

“Every day I wake up is a good day,” Ms Richardson said.

“If I don’t feel well when I wake up, then that is what it is today. Sometimes I have to take things moment by moment.”

She started experiencing ovarian cancer symptoms, bloating and back pain, in 2009, but was misdiagnosed with kidney cysts.

It took a year-and-a-half for doctors to diagnose her with stage four ovarian cancer.

By the time they found the cancer, it had progressed to her lungs.

“I was 49 when I was diagnosed,” Ms Richardson said.

“The problem is, it’s hard to diagnose and sometimes has the same symptoms as menopause.

“For a lot of women, it starts around the same time as menopause.”

She thinks her biggest mistake was quitting her gynaecologist.

“I stopped seeing one when I was 40,” she said.

“I had a partial hysterectomy and thought I didn’t need one anymore.

“But gynaecologists are often better at diagnosing gynaecological problems than a general practitioner and have more tools at their disposal.”

After diagnosis, she had three long years of aggressive chemotherapy and numerous health setbacks including a pancreas nicked in surgery and a hernia.

“When I first got sick I felt very alone,” she said.

“When I returned to Bermuda after treatment, I found there wasn’t any support group for women with ovarian cancer.

“You hear a lot about breast cancer, but not much about gynaecological cancers. They’re silent killers.”

To raise awareness, she and two other women, Patty-Ann Flood and Devoye Darrell, formed Ovarian Cancer Awareness Bermuda in 2013.

The organisation kicked off September’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness month with the second annual Break The Silence 5K Run/Walk.

This year’s event was held in Ms Darrell’s honour. She passed away in April from a combination of breast and ovarian cancer.

“Her death was very difficult for me,” Ms Richardson said.

“She fought so hard. It seemed like she never caught a break from the chemo and radiation.

“There has to be another way.

“I don’t care what they say, chemo is poison.”

Ms Richardson herself was diagnosed with breast cancer last month after a year with no health issues.

Her type of breast cancer is thought to be unrelated to ovarian cancer.

“My year of grace was 2015,” she said.

“I enjoyed life as much as possible. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was like ‘here we go again’. It is an aggressive-growing cancer.”

She is being treated through Cancer Treatment Centres of America in Philadelphia.

She’ll spend the next four months in three-week rounds of chemotherapy. She can return to Bermuda in between. She has already had one round and starts the second next week.

There are days where she struggles to stay positive.

“Some days I just fall apart,” she said. “Sometimes it is so difficult that I have to go through this again.

“This time around I am having a little bit of difficulty emotionally, but most days I am doing fine.”

She said the key was her support base.

“I have a wonderful one with my friends and family,” she said.

“Sometimes they just hold my hand and sit down with me.”

Her mother, Janet Richardson has been there for her throughout her cancer journey.

Ms Richardson has no children, but finds comfort in her dog Arianna “Ari” Louise Richardson.

“She is a Yorkie-Maltese-cross that I adopted from the SPCA last year,” said Ms Richardson.

“I love dogs and hadn’t had one for awhile. She gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”

She plans to take Ari with her when she has her breast cancer lump removed next January.

“I’ll be recovering for 12 weeks,” she said.

“She’s had all her shots and she’s coming with me.”

Ms Richardson knows exactly what she’ll do when she’s finally cancer-free.

“I am going to get on a plane and I am going somewhere far, far away,” she said.

“Maybe I’ll go to Egypt or maybe I’ll go to Athens, Greece.”

•On Tuesday, OCAB will be holding a Splash for Teal! aqua aerobics class at the National Sports Centre at 6pm for $10. They are also encouraging people to show their support by getting a ‘Teal Toes’ manicure or pedicure throughout September at participating salons. For registration and information go to ovariancancerawareness.webs.com.

Denise Richardson (Photograph supplied)
<p>Silent killer’s statistics</p>

Some facts about ovarian cancer from Ovarian Cancer Awareness in the United States:

• Many women don’t seek help until the disease has begun to spread. If detected at its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is more than 93 per cent. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often subtle and easily confused with other ailments.

• Most new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed at stage three or later, meaning it has already begun to spread to the lymph nodes and outside of the pelvis.

• About half of new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in women over the age of 63. Women between the ages of 25 and 54 account for approximately 25 per cent of the cases that are diagnosed.

• One in 73 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer during her lifetime.

• Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

• Bloating

•Trouble eating or feeling full quickly

• Pelvic or abdominal pain

• Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often

• Fatigue

• Upset stomach or heartburn

• Back pain

• Pain during sex

• Constipation

• Menstrual changes