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She heard the words ‘ovarian cancer’ on her 60th birthday

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

She heard the words ‘ovarian cancer’ on her 60th birthday

About 19,880 women will receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Stephanie Walker was one of those women.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

In the early stages, many women have no symptoms at all. Stephanie Walker was wise. She listened to her body and became suspicious when she was bloated and uncomfortable. She first went to the emergency room and then followed up with her gynecologist. That was in November of 2021.

On November 4, Walker’s 60th birthday, a blood test - CA-125 - indicated she has ovarian cancer. This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, a time to educate women about the signs, symptoms, and treatment for ovarian cancer.

The American Cancer Society reports that about half the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older. It is more common in white women than African American Women. There is no way to prevent most ovarian cancers but there are things that women can do to lower their risks of the most common type of ovarian cancer, epithelial ovarian cancer. Those things include maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding hormone replacement therapy after menopause. Also suggested by the American Cancer Society are using contraceptives and tubal ligation and hysterectomy. If there is a family history of ovarian cancer, women may consider genetic counseling or testing. Overall, it is suggested that women talk to their physician if they have risks or concerns.

For Walker, the diagnosis came as a surprise. She has no family history, has enjoyed excellent health most of her life, and has maintained an active lifestyle.

“Just a few weeks before my diagnosis I was kayaking in Florida and sailing past a bunch of 20-year-old college students,” said Walker, who has been married to her husband, Chris, for 35 years. They have two adult daughters and four grandchildren. A long-time resident of Seymour, Ind. she is retired from operating “Stephie’s Pawn Shop.”

“Ovarian Cancer has been called the ‘silent killer’ and it’s true. There are few signs,” said Walker. In addition to kayaking she was taking trips with her grandson to Walt Disney World, biking several miles, and hiking in the woods.

With a Stage 3 diagnosis, she is in the care of Dr. Sharon Robertson at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. She began chemotherapy a few days before Thanksgiving last year and in May took a trip with her daughter to celebrate her remission. Now she is getting blood transfusions to improve her iron levels.

“I love Dr. Robertson. She told me, ‘It isn’t curable, but it doesn’t mean you can’t fight it.’ It gave me hope,” said Walker. In the past four months she has taken three trips - including one to the ocean where she reeled in a 170-pound sailfish. “I’m living my life and I’m going to make every day count.”

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