September 11, 2013 - Goodrich- Karl Halterman isn't sure how many lightposts are in the village, but as of Monday he had decorated about 20 of them with ribbons and he'd love to do all of them— turning the town teal.
Bethany and Karl Halterman with one of several Goodrich lightposts bedecked with teal ribbons for September. (click for larger version)
Halterman is putting up the ribbons to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, and he started with the lightpost near his home, because that is where the disease has struck closest. September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and "Turn the Towns Teal" is a national campaign Halterman learned about through the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance (www.mioca.org) after his wife, Bethany, was diagnosed with the disease this past spring. He has also given several village businesses placards to put up that describe symptoms of ovarian cancer.
"The problem with ovarian cancer is the symptoms are so subtle," said Karl. "They call it the silent killer. You don't know you have it until it's in the later stages. The more people who know what to look for, the better. In five months, I know more about ovarian cancer than I ever cared to know."
Beth Halterman was tired the first few months of the year, but working 10-12 hours per day as a sixth grade teacher at a Flint academy, this didn't seem out of the ordinary. Looking back now, Karl said her first more overt symptom was difficulty eating— she would eat half her dinner and feel full. Then, during a 3-week period, she suffered heartburn, diarrhea, and then, the last few days before going to see a doctor, she had severe bloating.
"She looked seven months pregnant and that's when we knew something was way wrong," said Karl.
On Good Friday, March 29, Beth saw her general physician, who sent her to the emergency room for a CAT scan. Karl "hightailed it" to the hospital, where a doctor was telling Beth that in cases such as hers where there is so much bloating, 80 percent of the time it is cancer. He arrived to find his wife in tears.
Doctors drained two-and-a-half liters of fluid from Beth's abdomen and tests confirmed it was stage 4b ovarian cancer. She was scheduled for surgery one week later, undergoing a complete hysterectomy, as well as removal of lymph nodes, appendix, spleen, "anything that cancer was on that you can do without," Karl said. Doctors also snipped part of her intestines, and scraped her stomach, bladder and diaphragm in the 5-hour surgery.
So far, Beth has undergone five chemotherapy treatments, with four more to go.
Beth, 44, and Karl have been married 22 years and have one daughter, Elise, 21. Karl notes that one of the things they learned through this journey is that women who have no children, or only one child are more susceptible to ovarian cancer than women who have two or more children. Beth also did not use oral contraceptives, which can decrease risk of ovarian cancer if used for five years or more.
She did not have a history of cancer on her mother's side, although her paternal grandmother, they have learned, had cervical cancer, and a paternal aunt had breast cancer.
Beth's diagnosis was just "pure shock."
"Here you are cruising through life and all of a sudden, 'BAM!'" said Karl. "But we have a lot of faith and that has certainly helped us through all this."
Karl recalls that after the diagnosis, they were driving home one day from the hospital and they stopped at a park by a lake. They sat and talked and prayed together and Beth told her husband that blessings can come from the worst things and she is convinced someone will be blessed by what they have experienced.
"Like any married people, we've had our ups and downs, but we've gotten through everything and we'll get through this as well," said Karl.
There is no test that can completely assure the Haltermans that Beth's cancer is gone. But a CAT scan after her third chemotherapy treatment showed only three small pockets of fluid remaining. Her blood is tested twice a month and Karl said a blood marker for ovarian cancer should be below 30 on a person without the disease. When Beth was first diagnosed, her number was 254. It has steadily come down and is now only 14. She is back to teaching and Karl is hoping his new neighbors in Goodrich learn a few things about ovarian cancer this month with the ribbon campaign.
"If you know the symptoms and are experiencing them, you can get to a doctor," he said. "If one person gets saved, it's all worth it."
According to mioca.org, the following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than women in the general population: bloating; pelvic or abdominal pain; difficulty eating or feeling full quickly; and urinary issues (urgency or frequency). Other symptoms commonly reported include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation or diarrhea, menstrual irregularities, weight gain or loss, and shortness of breath. Mioca.org recommends seeing a gynecologist if these symptoms are unusual for you and persist for more than a few weeks.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville