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THE ADVOCATE
Advocate staff photos by RICHARD ALAN HANNON

Laying with a stuffed pink elephant given to her by boyfriend Conway Herzog III, Kelli Richmond, 28, of Baton Rouge, goes through her third round of chemotherapy treatment at Woman’s Hospital.

Woman stays positive through treatment
Editor’s note: This is the first in a se- ing of the uterus grows in other places, ries of stories following 28-year-old such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries or Kelli Richmond’s fight against ovar- tissue lining the pelvis. ian cancer. That changed when Solar started measuring an image on the screen BY PAM BORDELON during Richmond’s CT scan. “I said, Advocate staff writer ‘That’s not supposed to be there is it?’ And she said, ‘There’s lots of things For her 28th birthday Jan. 8, there that shouldn’t be there,’” Richmond recalled. Kelli Richmond’s friends threw Thinking they were dealing with an her a wig party. endometrial cyst, the next stop was an ultrasound. That led to a diagnosis of They sported a variety of wigs either an ectopic pregnancy or ovarian — some more playful than others, dermoid cyst, a bizarre, usually benign tumor that typically contains a diversiin support of Richmond as she ty of tissues including hair, teeth, bone, thyroid, etc. Solar scheduled Richmond battles ovarian cancer. for laparoscopic surgery Oct. 23. Ovarian cancer isn’t something a “When I woke up, my parents (Patsy 28-year-old is supposed to get; 69 per- and Ron Richmond) had this look of cent of women diagnosed in the United fear on their faces,” Richmond said. States from 2002 to 2006 were 55 or “When I asked them what happened, older. But after experiencing three they just kept saying to wait for the months of “stabbing pain” with her doctor. I then checked my cell phone monthly cycles, preceded by sporadic and I had a message from Dr. Solar’s problems for several months, Rich- office telling me they had made an apmond called her gynecologist, Dr. Kay pointment for me with Dr. (Jacob) Estes. I looked at them and said, ‘I have Solar. “I knew something wasn’t right,” said cancer don’t I?’” Yes, she did. Cancer had literally Richmond, adding that she wasn’t too concerned since all of her symptoms taken over her uterus. One ovary was pointed to endometriosis, a female reproductive disorder in which the lin➤See CANCER, page 2D

CANCER

CONFRONTING

Ovarian cancer facts
Ovarian cancer is a growth of abnormal malignant cells that begins in the ovaries. Cancer that spreads to the ovaries but originates at another site is not considered ovarian cancer. Ovarian tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Although abnormal, cells of benign tumors do not metastasize (spread to other parts of the body). While the causes of ovarian cancer are unknown, some theories exist. Genetic errors may occur because of damage from the normal monthly release of an egg. Increased hormone levels before and during ovulation may stimulate the growth of abnormal cells. Currently there is no way of preventing ovarian cancer.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms include abdominal bloating or discomfort, increased abdominal size or clothes that fit tighter around your waist, increased or urgent need to urinate and pelvic pain. Additional signs and symptoms are persistent gas, indigestion or nausea, unexplained changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss or gain, loss of appetite, feeling full quickly during or after a meal, pain during sexual intercourse, a persistent lack of energy, low back pain and shortness of breath.

Who’s at risk?

All women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer regardless of age; however, a woman’s risk is highest during her 60s and increases with age through her late 70s. Research suggests a relationship between the number of menstrual cycles in a woman’s lifetime and her risk of developing ovarian cancer. A woman is at an increased risk if she started menstruating at an early age (before 12), has not given birth to any children, had her first child after age 30, experienced menopause after age 50 and/or has never taken oral contraceptives.

Stats

Patsy Richmond, left, watches as daughter Kelli Richmond adjusts her hat over a wig at the ‘Fight Like a Girl’ wig party her friends threw for her 28th birthday in January.

Ovarian cancer accounts for approximately 3 percent of cancers in women. While it’s the ninth most common cancer, it is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women, and is the deadliest of gynecologic cancers. Mortality rates are slightly higher for Caucasian women than for minority women.
Source: Ovarian Cancer National Alliance

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON

Kelli Richmond, second from left, talks with, from left, co-hostess Melissa Parmalee, sister Kristen Steward, mom Patsy Richmond and childhood friend Brooke Stikeleather during a ‘wig party’ celebrating her 28th birthday.

CANCER

Continued from page 1D tucked behind and adjacent to the other one. Solar and Estes told Richmond she would have to undergo a complete hysterectomy. When she was rolled into surgery at Woman’s Hospital Oct. 28, 20 or so family members waited anxiously in the waiting room. Aside from the hysterectomy, Estes removed her appendix and resectioned her colon as well as two other sections of Richmond’s intestines. As he explained to Richmond after the surgery, her uterus literally “fell apart” in his hands as he was removing it. The final diagnosis — Stage III ovarian cancer. “I kept myself together better than the rest of the family,” said a still-together Richmond, as she was undergoing round three of her chemotherapy treatment at Woman’s. “It hit my dad the hardest. My mother just kept saying, ‘I wish it was me.’ Conway (Herzog III, her fiancé) was my rock! He kept it together which allowed me to keep it together. “You kind of take yourself by surprise,” she continued. “You don’t know how you’re going to react.” Richmond admitted that the surgery and its recovery was 10 times harder to deal with than chemotherapy, so far. “It’s been better than I expected. They

Even with all she is going through, Kelli Richmond keeps an infectious smile on her face and a positive outlook. She is inspired by the fact that three of her friends are cancer survivors. “People our age get cancer, but we don’t die from cancer,” she said. “I immediately knew I was going to be OK.”
give me steroids before my treatment, but then the fatigue hits and I spend three days in bed after I leave here (the hospital).” She’s sometimes hit with nausea, “but that’s usually associated with stress.” Her other side effects are dry skin and weight loss. While most women would welcome dropping several pounds, the already petite Richmond confessed her weight loss is “the largest pain in the butt.” Even with all she is going through, Richmond keeps an infectious smile on her face and a positive outlook. She is inspired by the fact that three of her friends are cancer survivors. “People our age get cancer, but we don’t die from cancer,” she said. “I immediately knew I was going to be OK.” She’s getting on with her life — going to work every day, doing things that make her happy and hanging out with friends. Sometimes those friends start to vent about their daily problems then stop short when they remember what all Richmond is dealing with. “I quickly tell them, ‘No, let me think about your problems!’ I don’t want them to treat me any differently. Cancer is a part of who I am, but it’s not who I am … It puts a whole new perspective on life that people my age don’t have.” Keeping things in perspective isn’t really something new for Richmond. As development manager for the ALS Association Louisiana Chapter, she continually interacts with people dealing with a 100 percent fatal disease. “It gives me hope; I feel lucky,” she said. “They removed 95 percent of my cancer surgically and the rest will be gone after six rounds of chemo.” Her job also gave Richmond some insight as to how patient services work with different organizations. “I knew where to look for stuff,” she added, smiling. “I also know what questions to ask. I was well prepared, because of my job, to handle all the logistics of this.” One of her board members also offered some words of encouragement. “Dr. Brent Allain told me there are four things — the mind, spirit, support and your doctor, and that if all four are good, you are going to have the best experience possible …” And Richmond appears to have all four in abundance. Herzog cut her hair when it started to fall out; his brother Chris shaved it. “He first cut it into a Mohawk,” said Richmond, adding that she fortunately kept her eyelashes and eyebrows, and has a normal appetite. “Conway said, ‘You can either cry or laugh about this, which one is it going to be?’ So we had a good time.” And then there are the friends who threw her the “Fight Like a Girl” wig birthday party. The all-girl get-together was the brainchild of Sara Godley. “I have one black, one blonde, one red and two brown wigs,” said Richmond, laughing at the memory. “It was great to give them to me so now I have a collection.” She does have her moments, though. “I’ll feel weak and I want to scream at the world and say ‘Why me?,’ but everything happens for a reason and hopefully I can help others who may face this one day.”