As she approaches her first year participating in the National Race to End Women’s Cancer with “Colleen’s Army,” Colleen Schenk reflects on the diagnosis she received in 2018.
After roughly eight weeks of treatment on what she thought was a torn muscle in her abdomen, in addition to experiencing a host of other symptoms, Colleen visited her primary care doctor. They called for a diagnostic CT scan, during which the actual cause of pain was revealed: Colleen had a 27 cm tumor on her ovary.
After convening with her gynecologist and a gynecologic oncologist, it was decided that Colleen would receive a total hysterectomy, a bilateral salpingo oophorectomy, appendectomy, and a lymph node staging procedure. Surgery and molecular testing found that the ovarian tumor, and a second tumor found in her uterus, was the result of endometrial cancer that had spread.
“I woke up from surgery missing my uterus and ovaries and I had to come to terms with those three little words, ‘I have cancer’,” she said. She was diagnosed with Stage 3a endometrial adenocarcinoma at the age of 40. Since, she has received six rounds of chemotherapy. A follow-up CT scan in February 2019 declared No Evidence of Disease (NED).
However, in finding out that she had cancer, Colleen also learned that she has Lynch syndrome, a mutation of the MSH6 gene that makes her more susceptible to developing secondary cancers. This is her first year of surveillance, and she will continue to be monitored for multiple types of cancer throughout her life.
She described the detection of the mutation as a silver lining, saying “I look at it like this; I have had the mutation my whole life, the only thing new is that I know about it and can use that knowledge to try to catch any new cancers early.”
Shortly after her diagnosis, Colleen banded together family and friends with the determination to raise awareness and funds for research of gynecologic cancers.
Her team of loved ones, dubbed “Colleen’s Army,” has demonstrated their commitment to the cause, raising over $5,000 for the Foundation for Women’s Cancer’s National Race to End Women’s Cancer.
As the 41-year-old New Jersey native looks forward to the race, she highlights reasons why she participates. “Anything that I can do to raise awareness, even if it is just to help one person, is a victory for me and the race embodies that on a much bigger scale,” Colleen said. “Events like this race can inspire women to take care of and advocate for themselves. I am so excited to be a part of that.”
Colleen added that she is grateful for the relationships she has been able to foster through the gynecologic cancer community.
“A big thank you to all the medical professionals for doing what you are doing,” she said. “My gynecologic oncologist and her entire team treat me like family and I wouldn’t be here without them. To my fellow women with cancer, I would like to say thank you to all of you too. We are all in a club that we didn’t necessarily want to be in but nevertheless here we are. I have experienced nothing but love and support from everyone that I have met over the past year who has cancer like me.”
The National Race to End Women’s Cancer takes place in Washington, DC, on Nov. 3, 2019.