Veterinarian wants to help 'pet parents'
URBANA — In Dr. Kandi Norrell's practice, the patients bark and meow. And they don't get to her offices by themselves.
People bring them there, she says, and those "pet parents" are often women who might be overlooking the subtle signs of ovarian cancer.
An Urbana veterinarian who operates Good Friends Animal Hospital, Norrell has joined an initiative she hopes will help save the lives of more women with ovarian cancer who don't seek treatment soon enough.
Launched in 2012 as a partnership by the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization and the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, it provides veterinarians such as Norrell an opportunity through their practices to raise awareness about the subtle symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Norrell is the ninth veterinarian, all in Illinois, to participate.
"Initially it doesn't make sense to people, because why would veterinarians be fighting ovarian cancer?" Norrell says. "But members of the community report pet parents talk to their veterinarians."
Plus, she says, veterinarians are in a good position to see a lot of women who need this information.
More than 80 percent of veterinarians graduating these days are women, and many people bringing their pets to see veterinarians are also women, too, Norrell says.
And with veterinarians providing wellness, sick care, dentistry, medications and other services for sometimes more than one pet in the family, they can wind up seeing women pet owners more than these women see their own human medical doctors, she says.
"What we found is that many people start talking about their own health problems when they go see their vet," said Vallie Szymanski, executive director and a co-founder of the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization.
Knowing the symptoms of ovarian cancer is important for early detection, because they can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions such as gastrointestinal upset, Norrell says.
And this is a cancer that is best treated when it's caught early. About 15 percent of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with early-stage disease, before it has spread.
This year, the American Cancer Society estimates 21,980 women will get ovarian cancer and 14,270 will die of it.
Norrell says she and other veterinarians involved in this initiative won't be approaching women about ovarian cancer or "trying to play doctor on the human sector."
But she will have the information about it throughout her clinic and be available to listen to a woman who thinks she may have symptoms, and advise her to go see her own doctor.
Ovarian cancer isn't something women necessarily think of, Norrell says, but "it's very curable if you catch it right away."