NORFOLK -- It was just weeks before Charlotte Olsson's 58th birthday when she started having problems she knew weren't normal.
"I started excessive weight gain for no reason. I had very little appetite and in a matter of like five days, I had put on like 20 pounds," she said.
Olsson says her primary care physcian told her it was likely a severe case of constipation.
She says she got worse over the next few days so she went to the emergency room. A CATscan revealed her problem - she had Stage 3 ovarian cancer.
"The doctor basically told me if it had been a couple more months, I basically wouldn't be here," Olsson said.
Within 48 hours, Olsson was in the operating room.
Dr. Michael McCollum of Virginia Oncology Associates performed the surgery.
"By the time patients develop symptoms, they usually have pretty significant disease that has maybe filled the pelvis or extended into the abdomen. Unfortunately, that's the norm," he said.
Olsson went through chemotherapy and got involved in a clinical study for ovarian cancer. On June 2, she learned the cancer had reoccurred, so she's back in chemotherapy and optimistic.
Early indications of ovarian cancer include bloating, abdominal pain and urinary problems.
Dr. McCollum says women can reduce their risk of ovarian cancer by having multiple babies, breast feeding and using oral contraceptives.
"We've seen survival gradually extend. The cure rate has not improved, but the average life expectancy has become prolonged," he noted.
Research continues to look for early markers that a woman has ovarian cancer, but Dr. McCollum believes finding them is still years away.