Nine years ago, Laura Schneider was a schoolteacher in New Jersey. Today
she is a patient advocate living in Boston, helping women learn about
and deal with ovarian cancer. That change came after her own victory over
In 2006, Schneider started experiencing random, unexplained abdominal pain.
Imaging tests revealed a mass in her pelvic region, and she was referred to
Thad R. Denehy, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist who is co-director of the
Division of Gynecologic Oncology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery at Saint
Barnabas Medical Center. “She had advanced, stage 3C ovarian cancer,” Dr. Denehy says.
“That means she had large amounts of cancer. Only about 40 percent
of women with cancer that advanced survive.”
At that point, recalls Schneider, now 60, “the only thing I knew
about ovarian cancer was how to spell it.” Her treatments were difficult.
Dr. Denehy operated in September 2006 and took out some of the cancerous
tissue, but at that time it was only safe to remove part of it. After
four cycles of chemotherapy, he performed a second surgery to remove all
remaining cancerous tissue. Then five more courses of chemotherapy were
delivered through a port directly into her abdomen.
Schneider was lucky—she has been cancer-free ever since. Along the
way, she learned as much as she could about the disease that nearly took
her life. “I consider myself well read and well educated, but I
knew nothing about this disease,” she says. “And I thought
that if I knew nothing, I probably had a lot of company.”
She went back to school and earned a Masters in Health Advocacy from Sarah
Lawrence College. “I knew I had a message,” she says. “Too
many women don’t know the symptoms, which are so vague people call
this ‘the disease that whispers.’ Even many doctors aren’t
informed enough. Being a teacher, I want to educate others because awareness
is critical for early detection.”
SYMPTOMS OF OVARIAN CANCER
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ovarian
cancer may cause one or more of these signs and symptoms:
- vaginal bleeding or discharge from your vagina that is not normal for you
- pain in the pelvic or abdominal area (the area below your stomach and between
your hip bones)
- feeling full quickly while eating
- bloating, which is when the area below your stomach swells or feels full
- back pain
- a change in your bathroom habits, such as having to pass urine very badly
or very often; constipation, or diarrhea
All of these symptoms can also have causes other than cancer, but the only
way to know is to see a doctor. The earlier ovarian cancer is found and
treated, the more likely treatment will be effective.
To find out more about gynecologic cancer services at Saint Barnabas Medical
Center, please call 973.322.2929 or visit
The Cancer Center at Saint Barnabas.