In April 2008, Santa Rosa Beach resident Sara Markey began experiencing abdominal pain and bloating along with fatigue.
Markey began visiting doctors and was told it was her gallbladder or her colon, and when tests showed them to be normal, she was told she needed to just relax, as she was just getting older and aches and pains were normal signs of aging.
But, 56-year-old Markey knew her body, and she knew something was wrong. She became too sick to work and could barely stand. By the time she had the answers she sought six months later, Markey was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer.
"At that point, I was in such bad shape that it didn't hit me until I was recovering that I had cancer," she said.
She heard the bad news at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston Oct. 15 and was in surgery Oct. 16 for a hysterectomy and to remove her spleen.
Four years later, Markey is still battling the effects of the disease but considers herself a survivor.
"I will probably have to take chemo indefinitely," she says. "It's part of my life at this time. It's the new normal for me."
The chemo she is taking now is for tumor growth, which she gets at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She moved back to Houston to be close to the hospital for her treatments, but still owns a home in South Walton and the SOHO lady's apparel stores at Gulf Place.
In addition to fighting to stay healthy, Markey also has another mission: promoting ovarian cancer awareness, and September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
"Typically, ovarian cancer doesn't show. It's called the silent killer because by the time a woman is diagnosed, she is usually in a late stage, as it was in my case. That's why it's so important that women are aware of the symptoms," she said. "The prognosis for Stage 4 ovarian cancer is getting better when it is caught early. It's hard to detect, but symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, frequent urination, swelling, a feeling of fullness, gastro complaints, or changes in bowel habits. Women know when things aren't right in their bodies and I knew something wasn't right. I urge women to keep going to doctors until you find the right doctor.”
Markey goes for chemo every two weeks and is excited that Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast has a new cancer center.
"My message is: be aware of your symptoms and if any symptoms last more than two weeks, see your doctor. Don't give up!" she said.
Throughout the month of September, SOHO Beach and SOHO WOMAN, both in Gulf Place, will have complimentary information cards available, detailing the signs of ovarian cancer. Additionally, both stores will be offering bracelet and rings for sale promoting both ovarian and all cancer awareness. Proceeds from the sale of these items will go to ovarian cancer research.
"If any one of those four doctors or even I had known the symptoms of ovarian cancer, perhaps it would have been taken care of four years ago and I would be cancer free today," said Markey. "The survival rate of a Stage 4 ovarian cancer patient is five years. Let's promote ovarian cancer awareness so other women and their doctors can know the signs."