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Ashland woman takes cancer threat head-on

Cancer. No one is immune. No family untouched. With one in two men and one in three women in the U.S. predicted to battle some form of cancer in their lifetime, the terrifying word has moved from a whisper to the front line of conversation.

Time magazine devoted this week's cover story to it. On Monday, PBS is premiering the Ken Burns-produced, three-part series, "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies," based on oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee's research. And Angelina Jolie Pitt is in the news explaining that no matter how much money, power and fame a person has, everyone is vulnerable.

Cancer.

Stubborn. Complex. But not unbeatable.

Sooner or later — if not already — it has impacted your family. After a meeting with a doctor, it dominates most discussions, decisions and actions.

"You go from zero to 100, from no sign of cancer to 100 percent having cancer," says Merry Vediner of Ashland, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November. "The word will knock you to your knees but gradually, you can reclaim yourself to be more than just all about cancer."

The reality of cancer forces everyone to change. For Vediner, putting her life on hold to undergo chemotherapy was not enough. She researched, read journals and discovered resources online at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), American Cancer Society, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and Uptodate.com.

Still, she couldn't find a comprehensive list of symptoms of early signs of ovarian, uterine, endometrial, fallopian or cervical cancer. She created a list and included it on a one-page Symptom Calendar of Early Detection, so women can keep track if they experience multiple symptoms.

She wants to prevent women from ignoring bloating, bleeding and abdominal pain. The clues are less easy to dismiss if linked together.

"What I hope is that every woman tracks her symptoms for two weeks and is able to show her doctor so she can move on to the next stage: having tests to see what's causing the symptoms," she says.

As the Burns documentary and medical evidence make clear, beating cancer's odds relies on prevention, early detection and targeted, multiple therapies.

Brian Druker, a physician-scientist and director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, is profiled in the documentary because his research and clinical trials led to breakthroughs in cancer treatment, including the development of Gleevec.

Dr. Tanja Pejovic, one of the specialists at the institute, has been conducting clinical trials on DPX-Survivac, a vaccine to prevent a relapse of ovarian cancer.

Vediner asked her oncologist to share the Symptom Calendar with Pejovic, who reviewed it and added more potential signs: general fatigue and shortness of breath.

Vediner, who is one of the owners of board game company Funagain Games, is now emailing everyone she can think of — from her friends to Jolie's fan club. She's giving away a copy of the Symptom Calendar and spreading the word that time matters. Pass a copy on to loved ones, she urges.

"Ovarian cancer is called silent, but it's really only quiet," says Vediner, who has a 95.5 percent prognosis since the cancer was found early in her fallopian tubes before it spread.

Download the free, one-page Symptom Calendar of Early Detection at www.symptomcalendar.com or email Vediner at m_vediner@hotmail.com to request a copy.

Don't wait, says Vediner, her head covered in a colorful cap, her blouse concealing a soft mound of skin that hides the port used for weekly intravenous chemotherapy treatments.

"Keep a record," says Vediner, who will be watching the Burns documentary with her husband, Mike, on Monday, "so you can tell your doctor, 'I know my body. I have tracked my symptoms and I don't feel like I did two months ago.' "

Merry Vediner of Ashland, seen here with her husband, Mike, after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November, has put together a list of cancer symptoms women should watch for. photo courtesy of Vediner family