PROGNOSIS UNKNOWN: You can never be truly prepared

The Daily News

Evie Lichtenwalter is a Ball State student taking an academic break due to her cancer diagnosis. She writes “Prognosis Unknown” for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. Write to Evie at

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in July, I spent every waking moment reading everything I possibly could about a disease I had never let cross my mind before.

Treatment options, survival rates, chances of recurrence. If you had a question about ovarian cancer, chances are I knew the answer — or I at least thought I did.

Three weeks after my staging and debulking surgery, my surgeon’s office finally gave me a call to fill me in on my pathology report. This was the phone call I had been waiting for, a phone call that would help put a plan in motion.

Generally, it doesn’t take three weeks to fill a patient in on their pathology, but after mine looked a little unusual, they decided to send it to the Mayo Clinic for confirmation.

“See, you don’t have ovarian cancer,” the nurse said. “You actually have mesothelioma.”

“Mesothelioma?” I thought. “Isn’t that from asbestos? Don’t 60-year-old men get that?”

Before I had a chance to say anything, she went on to explain that there are types of mesothelioma that are not caused by asbestos, and considering my age, gender and lack of asbestos exposure, that’s probably not how I got.

I remember hanging up the phone that afternoon feeling like my brain was entirely empty.

Every little bit of information that I had shoved into my head in the last three weeks was useless. Pages and pages of information on a disease I didn’t even have were of no use to me.

When you’re sick, the Internet is a scary place. Even when you’re armed with a diagnosis and not just a list of seemingly random symptoms, it’s still a daunting experience.

According to the National Cancer Institute, young adults between the ages of 15 and 35 are six times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than individuals 14 and under.

Despite being the highest diagnosed category, death rates for young adults are not changing.

CBS News
reported in January 2012 that despite medical advances, there are still less options for young adults.

Matthew Zachary, cancer survivor and founder of Stupid Cancer, an organization geared toward young adults with cancer, said in the CBS report that a big issue with a proper diagnosis has a lot to do with available testing.

“Young adults don’t get cancers that are easily screened,” Zachary said. “... It’s not going to the doctor and saying, ‘Screen me for Hodgkin’s [lymphoma],’ because there is no such test. By the time you realize what you have, at least symptomatically, it’s probably too late or Stage 4.”

Researching mesothelioma is scary, and it’s even scarier when you’re told that regardless of what course of action you take, it’s hard to give out a solid prognosis.

Ovarian cancer
, however, carries a 44 percent five-year survival rate, with the survival rate getting higher the earlier the disease is diagnosed. If the cancer is found before it spreads outside of the ovaries, the survival rate jumps to a staggering 92 percent.

But 21-year-old women aren’t generally diagnosed with mesothelioma, so studying outcomes and statistics can do more harm then good.

Mesothelioma doesn’t carry a positive outlook. The American Cancer Society reported in October 2012 that the average survival rate after initial diagnosis is between four and 18 months, and 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed live five years or more. Being diagnosed with a disease that gives you the possibility of a year and a half to live is paralyzing.

Knowing the statistics helps, but statistics are not the only factor to keep in mind.

With cancer, there’s only so much worrying you can do before you just accept that some things are better off unread.


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