When Alison began to experience bloating during a holiday to France, she chalked it up to too much bread and wine. She had no idea that her weight gain was a sign of something far more sinister…
Ovarian cancer sits on my shoulder; it follows me, but I don’t think about it every day.
I was over in France and got back and thought, “you’ve been drinking too much wine and eating too much bread” because my tummy was distended. A week went by and I had to do something about it, so I went to the doctor. My mother had died from ovarian cancer and because I had this genetic history of ovarian cancer I had been screened for 20 years in case I developed it. I was offered a hysterectomy after the menopause, but hadn’t had it explained properly to me – I was in good health and also I hadn’t fully acknowledge the status of my own health. I didn’t have the hysterectomy and the screening stopped when I turned 60.
When I saw the GP about the tummy bloating, I was given a CT scan. I’m quite a pragmatic person, so when my doctor said to me, “you’ve got an ovarian cyst in that area”, I just took it on the chin. The scan had shown a tumour on my ovary, and I was diagnosed straight away.
I immediately started chemotherapy before undergoing a radical hysterectomy. Six months later, I had a recurrence, then six months after that I had another recurrence, and am currently undergoing another round of chemotherapy.
Ovarian cancer is an insidious disease.
Even though I was aware of the symptoms it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind because I’d always been healthy. Bloating was my warning sign – along with weeing little and often and feeling full without eating much.
My mum was only 57 when she died of ovarian cancer back in the 1970s. The progress since then is truly phenomenal. My mum didn’t have chemotherapy because she was diagnosed late. Despite my family history, I don’t have the BRCA mutation. My consultant told me that I have been unlucky.
Getting on with things
My first chemo was awful – I lost a lot of weight and I was so nauseous. Subsequent rounds have been better. When I was first diagnosed, I remember looking at myself and being distraught because I was so thin; I was wasting away. I’d had long brown hair before and I couldn’t bear it falling out. I was offered a wig but I didn’t wear it. I developed my own identity – wearing baseball caps or skullcaps and big earrings, which is my trademark.
I retired in 2009. My husband died when I retired, and my nearest and dearest family is all deceased. I do have a close network of friends and I told them all straight away.
I can’t remember crying because I had ovarian cancer. I do sometimes get angry because it stops me doing the things I want to do, but I don’t feel sorry for myself. I think I’m the kind of person who either sinks or swims. My diagnosis is what it is; I just had to get on with things, and now I feel very positive generally.
Lessons for the future
One of the things that really gets me is that women are walking around not knowing they have ovarian cancer, and so many of them are diagnosed in A+E. When I came out of hospital, one of my friends and I did a 60s night to fundraise for Target Ovarian Cancer. It seems like breast cancer is always talked about in public and in the media, but I feel that ovarian cancer is also well worth media attention. That’s part of the reason I’ve been featured in my local newspaper. I’ve also been on BBC Radio Scotland to talk about ovarian cancer, and I am going to be writing to the Scottish Health Minister about ovarian cancer and asking for an awareness campaign. If I can help one person, I’ll be happy.
Looking back now, I think my diagnosis probably did change me a little. Now when people ask me to go to something, I automatically accept everything and refuse nothing. I’m the same person I always was - I like walking and meeting friends, going to concerts and the theatre. And during chemo I have continued to visit a good friend in France regularly. The main difference is that I’m a little more impulsive since my diagnosis; I try to live in the moment.