Clifford was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in May 1997, at age 14. Even with her illness, she was all-state in high school tennis, basketball, and softball, and was valedictorian and president of her graduating class in 2001. She went to college in North Carolina and played tennis for two years, and began her “dream job” working for the ATP Men’s Professional Tennis tour in Florida.
“I just said this was going to be a part of my life, and dealt with it and moved on,” she said.
Today, she continues her surgery and treatment for thyroid cancer, and said it is under control.
Things got a little more complicated for Clifford in 2005 when she began experiencing new symptoms. Doctors told her she now also had stage 3-C ovarian cancer. She said there is no correlation between the thyroid cancer and ovarian cancer.
“I basically hit the cancer lottery twice,” Clifford said, maintaining her sense of humor through her difficult treatment.
According to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, one in 72 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. About 20,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, and another 15,000 will die. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among American women. In cases where the cancer has been detected before it spreads beyond the ovaries, 90 percent of women will survive more than five years.
“Mine wasn’t found until Stage 3-C, which is very late,” Clifford said.
Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic and abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency). Also sometimes fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities.
After being told she had ovarian cancer, Clifford had a complete hysterectomy; but the cancer had already spread throughout her body. She underwent chemotherapy for about six months, followed by a brief remission in 2006. One year later, she had a recurrence of ovarian cancer.
She left her job in Florida and moved back to Portsmouth, where her family helps care for her today.
“I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family that helps take care of me. I have a place to live and I don’t have to worry about any of those major type issues. But as a person in her 20s, not being able to get back out there on my own and do what I want to do, when I wanted to do it, is a little bit challenging,” Clifford said.
She said she also appreciates the blessings and prayers from everyone in Scioto County.
“It hasn’t just been because of my doctors. It hasn’t just been because of my family. It truly has been a team effort for everyone to come together and lift me up with this,” she said.
Clifford attended the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance Conference, in Washington, D.C., last month, to lobby Congress to support funding for cancer research and raise awareness of ovarian cancer. The first few days were spent gathering information through speakers and workshops. On the final day of the conference, participants personally told their stories to Congress.
Clifford became too ill during the conference and was unable to participate in the last day, visiting Congress. She said she has her good days and bad days, but still tries to live each day to its fullest.
“With everything going on in Washington right now, with health care reform, this was a vital time for our people to be there,” Clifford said.
“It’s not only hard to understand and figure out what’s going on with health care right now, it’s also hard to come up with a solution that could benefit everyone. I’m not sure I have all the right answers, and I’m not sure my congressman has all the right answers, but something has to be done. Especially in the area of cancer.”
According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 1.5 million new cases of cancer reported, and about 560,000 cancer-related deaths (1,500 each day) in the U.S. each year.
“A lot of money and attention has been focused on terrorism, but sometimes cancer stays on the back burner,” Clifford said. “We had this mass casualty of life lost on Sept. 11, 2001, but we have that pretty much every (two days), as far as lives lost to cancer.”
She said cancer touches everyone’s lives — whether they have it themselves or they know someone who does — and she urges people to “listen to their body” and don’t be afraid, or too busy, to get checked by your doctor.
While Clifford didn’t get the opportunity to speak with Congress last month, she has been invited to speak on the steps of the Ohio Capitol Building, in Columbus, next month — as part of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. For more information about ovarian cancer, visit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance Web site, at www.ovariancancer.org.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.