?Cancer doesn?t have to be a death sentence?

By By Rosemary Campbell , Staff Writer

By Rosemary Campbell , Staff Writer

Bethany Linscott didn’t think it was anything close to cancer.

In the fall of 2006, at the start of her sophomore year at the U, Linscott frequently became nauseated, which, she thought, was because of stress. Five days before Christmas, the doctors told her she had a tumor on the surface of her ovaries. The day after Christmas, they diagnosed her with epithelial ovarian cancer.

“When they told me, “You have a tumor,’ I couldn’t believe it,” said Linscott, now a senior in political science and history. “No way can I, Bethany Linscott, have cancer.”

Linscott had the classic symptoms of the disease: nausea, irregular ovulation cycles, bloating and feeling full quickly. But it is hard for doctors to diagnose even these classic symptoms because they are so similar to other problems, she said.

“I was really fortunate we caught my tumor so quickly,” Linscott said. “Ovarian cancer is usually caught really late.”

Mark Dodson, a gynecological oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the U, said most of his patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer don’t know something is wrong until the classic symptoms appear, and they usually don’t have symptoms until the cancer has spread.

Each year in the United States, roughly 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and about 15,000 of those diagnosed die, Dodson said. The mortality rate is high because the cancer usually isn’t caught until the third stage, when it has spread from the ovaries, throughout the other pelvic organs and into the abdominal cavity, he said. Only about 1,100 of those 21,000 cases are in women younger than 40 years old8212;Linscott was just 19.

“The chance of a woman getting it that young is probably one in 1,000,” Dodson said. “It’s low, low, low. It’s very unusual.”

The tumor attacking Linscott’s body was in its first stage, confined solely to her ovaries. For treatment, Linscott underwent two surgeries, followed by six rounds of chemotherapy that helped fight off the cancer. It took a toll on her, physically and emotionally.

“Chemo was terrible,” she said. “I’ve never considered myself a particularly vain person, but it was so hard to lose my hair, and eventually I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes.”

Although she was weak, Linscott said she tried to stay engaged with the world by surrounding herself with friends and family, and a pivotal moment came during a discussion Linscott had with her best friend.

“One evening, we were just talking about cancer, and we were both crying,” Linscott said. “She said “I really believe that God will do a good thing for this, both in your life and your perspective towards the world and empathy for people.’ It reminded me that as scary as mortality is, life and the world isn’t just about me.” But some days it was hard to keep that perspective, especially when she was nauseous, bald and felt ugly, she said

In June 2007, Linscott went into remission. She returned to school that fall, but said she wishes she hadn’t jumped back into things so fast.

“When treatment ends, you can finally breathe,” she said, but she remembers how difficult it was facing life so soon. With little hair and some lingering effects, Linscott faced reminders of the cancer.

“I have some pretty gnarly scars on my abdomen from my two surgeries,” she said. “I’m kind of proud of them.”

Linscott said she wishes someone had prepared her for post-cancer life, but she now volunteers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute every week to give cancer survivors the help she didn’t always have.

“I love being there because I think it’s really encouraging for people to see that young people get cancer and that I’m totally healthy now,” she said. “I just ran a half-marathon. Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence.”

Linscott said she could write a book from all that she learned from battling cancer.

“Now I just have this gut-level empathy that I didn’t have before,” she said. “And I think hand in hand with empathy is the realization that I can’t ever completely understand people’s hurts, I can never say, “I understand how you feel,’ because our pain is so unique and individual.”

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