WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. _ When she slips off her suit jacket, Maureen Seiden shows off her well-toned arms. Workouts are a part of her daily routine.
Slim, with a bright smile and a fast-paced conversational patter, she exudes energy. She scarfs up her salad, punctuating every bite with a quick point she's making.
You'd never guess she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer two years ago, at 52. She was Stage 3. There are four stages.
Ovarian cancer has been known for years as the silent killer, the whispering disease, because its early symptoms aren't alarming enough for women to seek diagnosis: bloating, gas, frequent urination, pelvic or abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, fatigue.
By the time the cancer is found, it's often at an advanced stage when survival chances are reduced.
To get women and medical professionals to pay more attention, The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a report pinpointing three core symptoms: a persistently swollen abdomen, bloating and an urgent need to urinate.
Seiden guesses she had symptoms for nearly a year before her tumors were discovered during a routine colonoscopy. Even though her mother had died at 36 of breast cancer, a warning she might carry _ and testing confirmed she did _ a genetic predisposition to cancer, neither she nor her doctors connected the dots.
She was told she had irritable bowel syndrome, which has similar symptoms.
"I was living on anti-gas pills," she said.
Her diagnosis was stunning, beyond belief.
"I went out to the car, hit the steering wheel, and screamed at the top of my lungs," she recalls. When told her late-stage cancer might end her life in five years, she told her doctor, "That's not enough time," and aimed her energies at living to see the grandchildren her daughters haven't yet conceived.
She has almost transformed her illness into a career. She is on a regimen of Doxil, a once-a-month intravenous therapy marketed by Tibotec Therapeutics, and she flies around the country as a paid speaker for the company.
She has devoted herself to working with the Boca Raton-based National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, a public information and education organization (1-888-OVARIAN by phone, and www.ovarian.org on the Web.)
She has organized a fund-raising walk for NOCC, and sells a charm bracelet ($48) created by Amore Beads to bring in money for ovarian cancer research.
She is determined to make a difference, to raise awareness of the disease, and to be more than an anonymous statistic.
With only half of the women diagnosed with this disease expected to survive five years, she knows she faces an overwhelming challenge.
But, she says, with the same determination that brings her to the gym at 6 a.m., "It doesn't have to kill you."
And you know, by looking at her, that she means it.
Carolyn Susman writes for the Palm Beach Post. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cox News Service