Grateful to call herself a survivor of ovarian cancer, Megan Yoo Schneider is on a mission to raise awareness and funding for critical cancer research by participating in the 2023 UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge.
“Cancer affects us all — even when we least suspect it,” says Yoo Schneider, who underwent surgery at UCI Health in September, 2022. “I want to do what I can to support research that has the potential to save lives and improve the quality of life for all those who have been affected.”
Yoo Schneider, then 34, first began experiencing abdominal pain and discomfort in June 2022. Thinking she might have gotten a stomach bug during her recent cross-country travels, she tried drinking more water, eating better and getting regular exercise. However, as the weeks went on, she was unable to eat anything but plain white rice and a little chicken. Her abdominal pain intensified.
With encouragement from her husband and her boss, the San Juan Capistrano resident sought medical help the following month, visiting a number of doctors, trying various medications and treatments for abdominal bloating and intense pain. Nothing seemed to work. Next, she underwent a series of tests, including an ultrasound.
Finally, in late August, her doctor said they'd found a tumor on one of her ovaries, a condition rarely seen in women so young.
“At that point, I was in so much pain that I could barely sleep. I felt as if I was suffocating,” recalls Yoo Schneider, a consultant for the international technology services company Accenture and an elected member of the Municipal Water District of Orange County Board of Directors, serving as its current president.
A friend recommended that she seek a second opinion at the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and its highly regarded gynecologic oncology team.
Yoo Schneider quickly scheduled an appointment with Dr. Robert E. Bristow, a nationally regarded expert in ovarian cancer and chair of the UCI School of Medicine's Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology. A series of extensive tests and consultations followed, culminating in a Sept. 6 surgery to remove the tumor. Two days later, Bristow told her that pathology tests determined that the tumor was a stage I ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in U.S. women. This year, nearly 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and more than 13,000 women will die of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. More than two-thirds of women diagnosed with the disease are age 55 or older. Only 10% of cases are found in women under age 40.
The disease is considered a silent killer, with a five-year survival rate of about 50%, largely because it goes undiagnosed until it has spread beyond the ovaries. The gynecologic oncologists the UCI Health Ovarian Cancer Center are dedicated to reversing those numbers.
“I cry every time I talk about my story because I know I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Dr. Bristow,” says Yoo Schneider, who encourages women to trust their instincts and seek medical attention as soon as they suspect something is wrong. “I tell everybody that UCI Health is the place to go."
Inspired by her fighting spirit, Bristow encouraged her to consider joining the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge and his team, the Ovary Achievers, after her recovery.
Now, she is dedicating herself to becoming one of the top fundraisers for the 2023 UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge, the seventh annual ride, run, walk being held Oct. 7 at Aldrich Park on the university campus in Irvine. In an effort to give back, she is determined to educate others about this aggressive disease and the need for early detection.
“There is so much value in your investment when you support research at the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center," Yoo Schneider says. "Every dollar raised goes directly to pilot projects and early-phase clinical trials that aim to develop new insights into cancer prevention, treatment and cures — to save lives.”