By Steve Blanchard - September 14, 2022
Today, Kim Lamke has a new respect for her health. She makes a point of getting into her swimming pool as often as she can and not spending too much time on the couch.
While she’s always been active, participating in walks to raise money for charity, she has been particularly focused on her fitness since the summer, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“In June, I noticed that my abdomen was swelling,” she said. “I thought maybe it was a gastrointestinal issue, but I looked pregnant.”
She tried eating healthier, but the swelling continued. Eventually, after some bloodwork and an ultrasound ordered by her gastroenterologist, it was recommended that she get further testing immediately
“The doctor called me with the results and told me to get to an emergency room,” she said. “The CT scan at the hospital showed cancer, but we weren’t sure what type. This was a complete surprise. I’ve always been a healthy person with no history of issues or medications. It was quite humbling.”
According to Dr. Robert Wenham, chair of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Gynecologic Oncology Program, swelling is often linked to ovarian cancer, usually because there are small deposits of tumor around the intestines that can inhibit their functionality.
"Many ovarian cancer patients say they have difficulty using the restroom or experience a lot of belching and acid reflux."- Dr. Robert Wenham
“It can build up gas and liquids and solids,” Wenham said. “Many ovarian cancer patients say they have difficulty using the restroom or experience a lot of belching and acid reflux.”
While those could be indicators of ovarian cancer, they don’t present all at once and the symptoms tend to appear over time. Wenham is also quick to say that bloating is not always a sign of cancer and it’s important to speak to your doctor about any symptoms that seem abnormal.
Out of Body Experience
When Lamke met with Wenham, she was ready to take whatever steps were necessary to improve her health, she said.
“When I saw him, he asked me how soon I wanted to start chemotherapy,” she said. “Two days later, I was on it. It was difficult to process and seemed like a fast whirlwind. Learning that you have cancer is an out of body experience.”
Treatments for ovarian cancer vary, depending on the stage, according to Wenham. In Lamke’s case, chemotherapy was the best way to begin treatment and she will undergo surgery to remove the cancer soon.
“We are learning more through randomized trials,” Wenham said. “Surgery used to be the first step for everyone, but we learned that if you give some patients chemotherapy first, the surgery is easier for the patient and for the surgeon. The good news is that survival rates are improving.”
As she continues to undergo treatment for her ovarian cancer, Lamke said she is trying to maintain a positive attitude, and her commitment to exercise is helping. It distracts her from the side effects of her treatment and gives her a sense of calm, she said. Wenham said he encourages moderate activity for his patients and sees no negative issues around staying somewhat active. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctors about starting an exercise regimen.
“We know that patients who are in better shape tolerate surgery and chemotherapy better and have better outcomes,” Wenham said. “We lack really good data that prove specific types and amounts of exercise are linked to better outcomes. But patients who are in better health are mentally and physically better prepared for treatment.”
Keeping a Positive Outlook
Lamke credits her husband of 12 years with her focus on fitness and health. He encouraged her to do some light workouts in the pool and to remain as active as possible. That has kept Lamke out of a “dark place,” she said.
“I went to that dark place for two days,” Lamke said. “You go from ‘I have cancer’ to ‘I’m dying’ in a matter of moments. I always tell people that I don’t have a choice, I have to stay positive. The point is to not give up. There is so much more life to live.”
The hardest part of her journey so far, Lamke said, was sharing the news of her diagnosis with her son and daughter. The family had not been directly impacted by cancer other than when her aunt was diagnosed with uterine cancer a decade ago.
“Other than her and speaking to her about it, I’d not really heard much about cancer treatment,” Lamke said. “But I know I’m in good hands with Dr. Wenham and I know what I have to do to feel as good as I can and to stay positive. I’m fortunate to have the swimming pool in the backyard and the support of my family to keep me motivated.”
Treatment for ovarian cancer has progressed over the past few years and Wenham said more discoveries are expected. Clinical trials are helping to move the needle in a positive way and several new drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration because of that success.
“Survival is improving, and we have better technology now than we’ve ever had before,” Wenham said. “All of that, combined with a well-managed patient who sees a specialist means better results.”