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Crystal Horn, a Houston woman who discovered a suspicious lump in her abdomen that was ovarian cancer.

Early Detection Is Cancer's Worst Enemy

When Crystal Horn noticed a lump in her lower abdomen, she wasted no time getting it checked out. She called her doctor that very day, and eight days later she was in surgery at the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center under the care of Tracilyn Hall, MD, assistant professor of gynecologic oncology at Baylor College of Medicine. Seven months later, Crystal was cancer-free.

“I dropped everything. I wanted to figure out what it was,” the 42-year-old Houston CPA  recalled about that August morning. She is an avid cyclist in great physical shape, biking up to 300 miles a week so taking care of her body is second nature to her. Within days she completed a full workup.  

Crystal underwent a minimally invasive procedure to remove a 15 cm tumor (about 5 ½ inches) in outpatient surgery. A biopsy confirmed the mass was stage 1 clear cell carcinoma, an aggressive type of ovarian cancer. She was released that evening with only a small scar about an inch long to show for it. Four smaller incisions are barely visible now.

“Clear cell carcinoma arises from the epithelial cells on the outside lining of the ovary. Fortunately, in Crystal’s case, we caught it early and treated it aggressively,” Dr. Hall said. “Most commonly, ovarian cancer is diagnosed at Stage 3 due to a lack of good screening options. But Crystal is very attuned to her body and did the right thing to have it immediately investigated.”

According to the American Cancer Society, only about 20% of ovarian cancers are found at an early stage. When it is found early, about 94% of patients live longer than five years after diagnosis.

Crystal took off a few weeks to recover from surgery then got back to cycling, even while undergoing six rounds of chemotherapy. “Even through treatment, at least through the first four cycles, I rode 120 - 250 miles (a week) and kept up with my work duties,” she recalled.

According to Dr. Hall, Crystal’s physical fitness helped her tolerate the treatment.  “There is no doubt that maintaining a good diet, a good exercise regimen, and a good sleep schedule makes treatment far more tolerable.”

“I think being active is what helped me through my chemo,” Crystal shared. She experienced some fatigue and hair loss but generally slept well and experienced no weight loss or loss of appetite. Six days after her surgery she started walking three miles a day. Four weeks later she resumed cycling.

Dr. Hall says Crystal is living proof that early detection is key to treating ovarian cancer.  She urges women never to ignore abdominal or pelvic pain or changes in bowel and bladder habits. “New onset constipation or diarrhea that doesn't go away or change with diet, or increase in abdominal girth unrelated to weight gain are symptoms that should be checked out.

“Cancer is not a death sentence. It's something that in general is exceedingly treatable and in many cases, curable,” Dr. Hall said.

Crystal wholeheartedly agrees. “It wasn’t until I had ovarian cancer that I learned my history of endometriosis put me at risk,” she said. “Talk to your ob-gyn about any suspicious pain you might be having and if you suspect something is not right, you have to advocate for yourself. Immediately.”

Dr. Hall and Crystal
Crystal taking a beautiful photo outside.

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