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David lost his wife to ovarian cancer, and now campaigns for awareness

Councillor David Graham tells us about his efforts to call for more to be done to raise awareness of ovarian cancer among women and health professionals, after his own personal experience of his wife's ovarian cancer.

In February 2015, I did my bit to raise ovarian cancer awareness with a motion at Fife Council. For those of you not familiar with the inner workings of local government, a motion sets out what the Council believes and what we feel needs to change. My motion drew attention to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and called for more to be done to raise awareness of ovarian cancer among women and health professionals.

Sharon Graham

First hand experience

I know first-hand the impact ovarian cancer has on women and their families, losing my wife Sharon almost exactly a year earlier. Sharon worked tirelessly to promote awareness of this disease to other women throughout local and national media.

I promised Sharon I’d continue her work to the best of my ability. Firstly, through campaigning for awareness through the media, working to inform as many people as possible about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and what to watch out for. Secondly, campaigning to improve the knowledge of medical professionals about what they should be looking for, hopefully then improving the time it takes to get to diagnosis and in turn improving survival rates.

Increasing early diagnosis

602 women are diagnosed a year with ovarian cancer in Scotland, but based on research carried out by Target Ovarian Cancer, at the point of diagnosis 65 per cent of women in Scotland had either never heard of ovarian cancer or if they had didn’t know anything about it. If diagnosed in the very early stages up to 90 per cent of women survive for longer than 5 years. Put simply, time is of the essence and if all cases were caught early enough, thousands more women would survive this terrible disease each year.

Sharon was one of those patients who was initially misdiagnosed, being treated first for constipation then for possible Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This delayed her diagnosis for over three months which is simply not good enough. A national symptoms awareness campaign programme is essential to increase awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms among the general public. 

If women don’t know the symptoms, they simply won’t go to their GP for advice. If GPs don’t know the symptoms, they won’t send women down the right diagnostic pathways.

A need for greater awareness

My motion ensured 77 more people are now aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and by writing about it here and in the local press I hope to build on that number.

Sharon was a brave woman, a strong woman with real values and a true grit to help others in their time of need even though she was terminally ill herself with her own worries. Throughout her diagnosis and treatment Sharon had dealings with many excellent medical practitioners throughout the NHS. My speech was not intended as a criticism of the work that the service does, rather it’s about the need for greater awareness, so that every woman recognises the symptoms of ovarian cancer and every GP knows to refer her for diagnostic tests.

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