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Cancer in your 'Pocketbook'

Sandra Jordan | 9/21/2011, 1:45 p.m.

Ovarian cancer usually strikes women after menopause, but it can occur at any age. Early detection of ovarian cancer is difficult, because oftentimes, women with ovarian cancer have no symptoms or just mild symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage and hard to treat.

"The day that I was diagnosed with cancer, my mom died of a debilitating stroke. She had been sick for almost a year-and-a-half," McGhee said. "I would leave Chicago on Friday, go to St. Louis, take care of my mom.

"So when people would say, 'Wow, it looks like you are losing weight,' I would say, I'm stressed out because my mom is dying. I'm tired - my mom is dying," she summed up.

"Every symptom that I had that told me loud and clear that my body was in need of care, I masked under the influence of 'My Mom Needs Me,'" she said.

"I had every symptom of ovarian cancer known -the bloating, the heavy bleeding; the weight loss - but we now know that a pap smear will not diagnose ovarian cancer."

After her radical hysterectomy to remove a cancerous tumor the size of a grapefruit, McGhee said she left Chicago to attend her mother's funeral in St. Louis, and returned back to Chicago for chemo.

The cancer returned a year later, in 2010, and McGhee completed her scheduled appearances before more surgery and chemo.

"I call it The Curious Case of Cancer," McGhee described. "I started to think of chemo like a carwash. You can get the $5 wash, the $6 wash, the $7 wash, right? But if you pay for the $7 wash, they got this extra blaster on the side. But when you come out, there's still going to be some little particles of dirt and dust around. And that's what I think of chemo inside of my body. Like we are washing to get all of these bad cells out, but we might not get all of them. And that's where I am right now -- they didn't get all of them."

Her father, best friend and family in St. Louis and involvement in support groups are providing strong emotional support through now her third bout, which occurred six months ago.

McGhee's experiences incited a new voice, another monologue - this time about the commonalities among everyone who has a form of "The Big C."

"After your initial diagnosis, there are some universal themes that we all share: depression is depression; chemo is chemo; having your body cut and then body parts removed ... I had to find some sort of way to make this work for me," McGhee said.

One way is point out the cultural differences in dealing with chemo.

"I loved my curly mane, but I don't remember anyone mentioning you would lose hair there too. I am not missing the hair on my head - I am missing the hair on my pocketbook, and that's a big thing for women," McGhee said.

"And I notice when I go for chemo that most of the Black women wear wigs and most of the white women are bald."

And after talking about it at the Missouri Black Expo in August in St. Louis, McGhee said when the Cancer Monologues rolls out this Fall, it will include her presentation and Q & A between a doctor and the audience.

"When women and when men leave, they leave knowing more than when they came," McGhee explained. "I think telling the truth, finally, through my grace is what I should be doing now - telling my truth.

"Our body speaks to us loud and clear. We are not listening."

For more information, visit the American Cancer Society at cancer.org or the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition at www.ovarian.org.