PRAIRIEVILLE — It has taken Terri Nickens Colclough a long time to get where she is today.
Colclough, 59, has battled ovarian cancer for three years and finally can admit living with it is both a blessing and a curse.
Although Colclough has a granulosa cell tumor diagnosis, a cancer that does not respond well to chemotherapy or being “zapped out” easily, it is slow-growing and treatable, she said.
Her time now is spent “learning to live with joy with cancer,” Colclough said, explaining she tries not to dwell on the fact that she most likely will face treatments and surgeries for the rest of her life.
“I have a great life and that’s just a minor inconvenience for me,” she said.
Colclough, who is the state advocate for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, hopes to make more women aware of ovarian cancer and its symptoms because the disease is usually detected in its late and most deadly stages.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 21,290 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 2015 in the United States.
About 14,180 women in the United States will die of ovarian cancer this year, American Cancer Society statistics state.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, abdominal pain, urinary frequency or urgency and eating less and feeling full quickly, Colclough said.
All these symptoms can be easily misdiagnosed by physicians, she said.
“I would like to tell women if you’re given a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome and have some of the other symptoms, be proactive and insist on further testing,” Colclough said.
Colclough’s mother, Florette Nickens, thought she had irritable bowel syndrome before going to the hospital emergency room with bloating and abdominal pain in 1998.
But doctors soon discovered Nickens was suffering from ovarian cancer, and she underwent surgery for a bowel blockage.
After six rounds of chemotherapy, Colclough’s mother lived 12 more years without any reoccurrence of the cancer and died at age 89, “which is pretty miraculous for ovarian cancer,” Colclough said.
Nickens’ physician offered to see Colclough and her three sisters because ovarian cancer has been linked to family genetics, she said.
Genetic testing revealed Nickens did not have what doctors believe is a gene that makes women more susceptible to ovarian cancer but the doctor asked if Colclough would be interested in a hysterectomy.
Colclough declined but continued to monitor her health through annual examinations with a different physician after her mother’s doctor retired.
In 2012, Colclough experienced spotting and became immediately worried. Even though that was her only symptom, she saw her physician for a CA125 test — a blood analysis that serves as the best screening method to date to detect ovarian cancer, she said.
“It’s not very accurate, but it’s the best test that, even to this day, that we have,” Colclough said. “We need a screening test. It’s a big push. We need the funding to be able to do the research to find a screening test.”
The CA125 test results came back within the normal range ,but a subsequent ultrasound revealed a benign cyst on one ovary, Colclough said.
Ovarian cysts are not uncommon in women, but Colclough decided to proceed with a hysterectomy, and the removal of her ovaries, because of her family history.
One week later, the pathology report came back with a granulosa cell tumor diagnosis, a rare ovarian cancer that doctors said is not genetically linked to her mother’s ovarian cancer diagnosis, Colclough said.
“It’s the classic story for GTC,” Colclough said. “It doesn’t look like cancer.”
Colclough went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a second opinion and then went through biopsies and subsequent treatment to flush the cancer cells from her pelvic area.
She decided against chemotherapy because the treatment does not have great results with her form of cancer.
Returning to MD Anderson Cancer Center every three months for testing, Colclough watched the hormone levels in her blood samples continue to rise.
That’s a problem for someone who has no ovaries because it is a sign the cancer is still there and growing, she said.
The constant waiting and watching was difficult for Colclough.
“It was a very stressful time for me because I’m a proactive type of person,” she said. “I try to address problems head on.”
Finally, tumors did appear after a year in Colclough’s lower pelvic area.
She underwent surgeries to remove the tumors and agreed to chemotherapy treatments in Baton Rouge under the condition she would stop if tests showed the treatment wasn’t working.
During her chemotherapy treatments from November 2014 to January, Colclough said she was very weak and unable to take care of herself.
She credits her fiancé, Johnny Gerace, for taking care of her when she felt so sick from chemotherapy she wasn’t able to get off the sofa.
Colclough finished four of six chemotherapy treatments before tests showed the treatment wasn’t affecting the cancer well enough to justify the side effects, she said.
A clinical trial from MD Anderson Cancer Center kept her tumor growth stable until just a few weeks ago. Colclough will undergo surgery in early October to remove a tumor near her small bowel.
“I’m convinced clinical trials are the direction that cancer patients need to go in,” Colclough said, who acknowledged that for some cancer patients, chemotherapy is the only treatment available. “Chemo is only existing; it’s not living.”
Clinical trials are positive experiences because the physicians treat each patient’s cancer individually which helps maintain the patient’s quality of life, she said.
Colclough has felt so good, she and Gerace traveled to Italy between her treatments and last month, she attended Camp Mak-A-Dream in Gold Creek, Montana, for ovarian cancer survivors and those still battling it.
Colclough said the camp was “awesome,” and she met inspirational women from all over the country.
In addition to representing Louisiana in the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, Colclough works with two Baton Rouge-based nonprofit organizations, Geaux Teal and the Kelli Leigh Richmond Ovarian Cancer Foundation, each organization headed by mothers whose lost their young daughters to the disease.
Teal is the official color of ovarian cancer awareness, she said.
And because September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, California Pizza Kitchen will donate 20 percent of its profits Monday and Tuesday to ovarian cancer awareness organizations if you mention it to your server, Colclough said.
Visit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance website at ovariancancer.org for more information.