Dawn Gunning – Ovarian Cancer Survivor

By Paula Green 

 By Paula Green

        September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  A Cranberry Township businesswoman was diagnosed with ovarian cancer several years ago.  Dawn Gunning was shocked when she was told the news, but she fought back and won the battle.  Now Dawn shares her story.

         I was always healthy, physically fit and active.  At age 45, cancer was not on my radar. But for 18 months prior to my 2012 diagnosis, I had been feeling different, although my symptoms were vague. I had increasing pressure in my lower back and abdomen. I started seeing a chiropractor for adjustments and was also referred to a gastroenterologist. He believed I had IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).  By the end of 2011, I could actually feel and see a lump in my lower left abdomen.  I followed up with my PCP in January 2012, she could feel it too, so she ordered an ultrasound. When my doctor asked me to return to her office to go over the results, I knew something was wrong.  She said, “I don’t want to scare you, but both ovaries have masses. We cannot tell from the ultrasound if the masses are benign or malignant.  Regardless, both ovaries need to be removed, and you will need to see a specialist.”                                                                       

        “Fortunately, I was referred to Dr. Tom Krivak, a brilliant gynecologic oncologist and gifted surgeon with a caring bedside manner.  He explained that he would remove each ovary intact, send them to pathology, and in 20 minutes, he would know whether the masses were benign or malignant. If malignant, he would continue looking for possible organ and/or lymph node involvement.  Waking up in recovery, with staples covering a long, vertical abdominal incision, I was given the news … I had ovarian cancer.   One month later, I began intense, intraperitoneal chemotherapy consisting of six rounds of cisplatin and paclitaxel.  Although the treatments were brutal, I responded to this protocol, and my CA125 dropped from 814 to 6 after the third round,” Dawn added.

          Dawn decided to push forward and is involved with the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. “I now know that my symptoms, although vague, are classic early signs of ovarian cancer.  I’m involved with NOCC to help spread the word about early detection and encourage women to see their gynecologist yearly, and AGAIN if they have any new pelvic pain or pressure.   The earlier ovarian cancer is found, the better the survival rates.   Ovarian cancer is rare compared to other cancers, so it does not get as much press or funds allocated for research,” noted Dawn.

         Since her initial diagnosis, Dawn has gone on to lead a healthier, holistic lifestyle. “I feel that my purpose now is to inspire others to take an active role in their health and healing.  I believe I am a cancer thriver because I have made radical changes to my life.  I follow an anti-cancer diet, maintain a healthy work / life balance, and spend more time doing things that I enjoy, like traveling with my husband, Mike, and being with our family and friends.  In addition to eating clean, every month I receive high dose vitamin C and ozone infusions to boost my immune system.  The advice I would give to anyone dealing with cancer is embrace a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet, eliminate/reduce sugar and toxins.  Alleviate stress in your life, exercise, meditate & drink plenty of pure water,” Dawn said.

         In support of Ovarian Cancer Month, a Together in Teal Ovarian Cancer Run/Walk will be held.  The event will take place on Sunday, September 15.  Registration starts at 7:30 a.m., the 5K Race will begin at 8:30 a.m., and the Fun Walk begins at 9:30 a.m.  Dawn attends the annual walk, as she notes, “Each year the attendance grows, but more exciting, the number of survivors present grows. It is an emotional day, full of inspiration.” For more information on this year’s ovarian cancer walk, visit https://runwalk.ovarian.org/pittsburgh.