Looking back, I had every symptom of ovarian cancer but no idea at the time.
I’d spent a week with my son, Robert, and he thought something wasn’t right.
I kept needing the toilet – sometimes I’d be up every hour in the night. I put it down to my age and the fact I’d had three children. It’s just what happens.
I had a bloated tummy, which I thought was middle-age spread, and severe backache – but surely everyone’s back aches as they get older? I was tired to the extreme but, no wonder; I was looking after my 92-year-old mother and helping with my one-year-old grandson. I put the tiredness down to a busy lifestyle.
I had an answer for everything.
When I got home, Robert kept calling to check whether I’d seen my GP. I finally gave in.
I told my GP about my bladder problem, and asked her to feel my stomach because I thought there could be a lump. Luckily she was well-educated in the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and immediately organised a blood test for the following day.
I thought it must be diabetes. When my GP told me it could be cancer, it took my breath away. But I was surprisingly calm. I just couldn’t believe it. Me?
The ball immediately started rolling and I was fast tracked for scans and gynaecological tests. Within 10 days it was confirmed as ovarian cancer.
My medical team was practical and positive about the next steps. I felt so safe and secure in their hands. It almost felt like the cancer wasn’t my problem because it was being taken care of by professionals.
Two months later I had my fallopian tubes and ovaries removed.
The following month I was told I needed chemotherapy. That was a big blow – it took the wind out of my sails. I was so focused on recovering from the operation, I didn’t want to have to deal with chemo as well. I’d heard terrible things about how ill it made you and I’d had enough of feeling poorly.
I needed a week to think about whether to go through with the treatment. In the end I couldn’t refuse it. I knew that if someone in my family had been in the same situation, I would be down on my knees begging them to go ahead with it.
Over the course of three months I had chemotherapy for six hours, every three weeks. In the end I pretty much sailed through it. You sort of get into a routine. It wasn’t the end of the world, it was giving me life – so I just had to get on with it.
I had a very upset tummy that I had to manage; numb fingertips and toes, which meant I kept dropping things; and a dry eye, which I could live with. I lost my hair – but it wasn’t like losing an arm or a leg, I knew it would eventually grow back.
The lack of energy was difficult to cope with but I had a great support network of family and friends around me. Everyone rallied around and I got help with housework, and driven to appointments.
I also knew the Macmillan nurses were there if I needed them. I had a 24 hour contact number, which I used about three times. My oncologist filled me with confidence – she was amazing: so positive and always smiling.
The level of support I had throughout the whole experience was fantastic. The NHS picked me up in their arms and totally took care of me at every stage of this journey. I can never thank them enough.
How cancer affected my family
Telling my family was one of the hardest things about having cancer. My children – grown up and in their thirties – were in complete and utter shocked silence when I told them.
I think cancer was more difficult for my family to deal with than me. I had such faith in the people around me. Everyone was so kind and I just left them to it.
My daughter sometimes questioned whether I was telling her the whole story. In the end, I invited them to come to appointments with me to ask questions. I was very open and didn’t hide anything from them. If I wasn’t feeling well, I’d let them know I needed to be alone.
I was always happy to ask for help. You need to let the people who care for you ‘do’ for you. It makes them feel better. Let them be involved – and give yourself a rest. Make the most of being fussed over. As a woman, we spend so much of our lives looking after other people – be selfish for once.
While I was having chemo, I saw a talk by Target Ovarian Cancer advertised and thought I’d go along. I was blown away by it and impressed by the different events. I learnt so much about ovarian cancer and what people were doing to raise awareness of the symptoms.
It was a real eye opener. I wasn’t aware that many GPs aren’t educated about ovarian cancer.
I took my daughter along to another Target Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day. I wanted her to learn more about ovarian cancer so she could share it with colleagues and friends.
She organised a talk at work and took a little green melon to show them the size of the tumour that had been inside me, without us knowing.
I’ve handed out about 600 Target Ovarian Cancer awareness leaflets, and always have them to hand in my car. I’ve also put posters up in my GP surgery and various other places.
I was completely oblivious of the symptoms. I want to make sure other women are more aware.
My side effects (apart from the dry eye, which I can cope with) are diminishing. I’ve been told that the tiredness and lack of energy I sometimes feel are very common and lasting side effects. It’s something I accept and adhere to because it’s also part of the body requesting rest and letting me know I still have to look after myself.
I have a terrible fear that the cancer will come back but I know I need to overcome it. Even though I sailed through the treatment, I definitely don’t want to go through it again.
I asked my oncologist and Macmillan nurse if there was anything proactive I could do. They suggested I go to a genetic clinic to look at my family history of cancer. It sounds strange, but it’s the greatest gift you can give your children. If they ever have symptoms, they’ll have information to take to their doctors about our family.
It’s also been wonderful getting involved with Target Ovarian Cancer and raising symptom awareness. I enjoy the support and the feeling that I’m doing something positive. Every now and then I have to step back from it and distance myself from cancer. I don’t want to let cancer take over my life.
Inspired by Moira’s story? Please share your own experience of ovarian cancer.
- Find out about our ovarian cancer Symptoms Diary
- Raise symptoms awareness
- Read about ovarian cancer symptoms
- Read more stories
Photo credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd