Firefighters raise cancer awareness one toe at a time

Auburn firefighters painted their toenails teal to show support for ovarian cancer.

AUBURN, Ind. (WANE) – Beneath the boots of 19 Auburn firefighters, you’ll find teal toenails.IMG_0952

“I think some thought not everyone would do it. It’s peer pressure. Once one started, others thought, ‘Oh man! I better jump on board,'” Chip La Rowe said.

The teal toenails aren’t new for Chip. He’s been wearing the polish since his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago.

“When people ask me about it, I say this is why I do it, so people do ask questions [to get a diagnosis earlier],” he said.

In light of September being National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Deb La Rowe brought a few bottles of teal nail polish down to the fire station.

“I wanted to do it for him, for the support for him. He’s been my support for so long,” Deb said.

Seeing all the teal toenails also means a lot to Deb.

“He sent me pictures and I was at Walmart and I cried,” Deb said.

Ovarian cancer only accounts for about three percent of cancers in women, but it causes more deaths than any other female reproductive system cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The organization estimates that in 2014 nearly 22,000 women will get a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer and around 14,200 women will die from the disease.

Deb and Chip La Rowe
Deb and Chip La Rowe

“Ovarian cancer is considered the silent killer because you have the symptoms and looking back later you know they’re there,” Deb said. “You need to figure out what’s wrong, not just treat the symptoms.”

Deb never dreamed she’d have ovarian cancer. Having multiple children can lower a woman’s risk and Deb is mom to seven. But, that was her diagnosis in 2012. She was only 48 years old.

“You have to be aware of your own body. I should have pushed more when I knew something was wrong,” she said.

She started having horrible sciatic pain and was given steroids, but they didn’t help. Then she saw a chiropractor, but still, the pain didn’t stop.

“I would get up every morning in tears and walk for 45 minutes before the pain would go away,” Deb said.

Auburn firefighters painted their toenails teal to show support for ovarian cancer.
Auburn firefighters painted their toenails teal to show support for ovarian cancer.

Deb started having abdominal pain too and her gynecologist tested for a thyroid issue. That test came back positive and the pain was attributed to that.

But, then she felt a mass in her side.

“I knew about it for two weeks before telling my husband or calling to make an appointment,” she said.

Deb’s doctor did an ultrasound and was sure it was a cyst. They scheduled a surgery to remove it, but Deb had a gut feeling something more was wrong.

“We did a CA 125 test. CA 125 is the protein that ovarian cancer puts out when you have the cancer. The level should be below 34 and mine was 175,” she said.

The surgery revealed Deb did in fact have ovarian cancer. It took eight months from when her back pain started to when she was diagnosed with the cancer. Deb said her ovary was the size of two tennis balls – a normal ovary is about the size of a walnut. Doctors estimated she’d had the cancer for about two years before they found it.

After surgery and chemotherapy, Deb is now cancer-free. In January, she will have been in remission for two years.

“I will be tested for CA 125 every three to four months. That will go to six months and then maybe to a year,” she said.

Around 60 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are already in Stage 3, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. That could be in large part because the symptoms can indicate a myriad of other ailments.

“You have to push for the doctor to do the test that needs to be done because it’s not in a normal pap smear,” Deb said.

Ovarian cancer symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms such as urgency (always feeling like you have to go) or frequency (having to go often)

These symptoms are also commonly caused by benign (non-cancerous) diseases and by cancers of other organs. When they are caused by ovarian cancer, they tend to be persistent and represent a change from normal − for example, they occur more often or are more severe. If a woman has these symptoms more than 12 times a month, she should see her doctor, preferably a gynecologist. (From the American Cancer Society)

Others symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual changes
  • Abdominal swelling with weight loss

“I hope it gets the word out to other women that maybe there is something wrong. Maybe I have a pain I shouldn’t be having and go to the doctor and push for a simple CA 125 blood test. It’s a simple blood test and it will tell a lot,” Deb said.

September 5 is national “wear teal day” for ovarian cancer. Teal was the color chosen for the disease because it stands for Take Early Action and Live.


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