When Fiona Munro was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer at the age of 30, she was determined not to take a single second for granted. Championing the power of positivity and the joy of kindness, Fiona explains why she sees her cancer diagnosis as the ultimate gift…
You can be young and get ovarian cancer.
I was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer at the age of 30.
In the four months leading up to diagnosis, I had swelling and tummy pain. I had bowel problems and I was getting up in the night to wee. My GP told me to drink less.
I want more women to be aware of the symptoms and for more healthcare professionals to recognise that young women, especially those with a family history, are also at risk.
Fighting to be heard
I’ve seen so many posts about the ‘missed’ symptoms of ovarian cancer.
I did not miss any symptoms. I was very aware.
I went to my GP every few weeks for five months with symptoms. I saw two gynaecologist consultants. I had scans. I had blood tests. None of them detected ovarian cancer. The scan results were suspicious and my CA125 level was raised, but the gynaecologist said it wouldn’t be ovarian cancer because I was too young.
I collapsed at work a week before a planned laparoscopy to see if I had an infection. I was admitted to hospital that night where five litres were drained from my abdominal cavity. They said there was no infection. I asked them to test the fluid for ovarian cancer and the further tests confirmed my worst fears. The fluid contained cancer cells.
I felt relieved. Before I’d almost felt like I was going mad.
I thought it was ovarian cancer because I’d seen the symptoms on the NHS website. I’d been told I had cysts on my ovaries, but it was an instinct thing. I know my body.
The hardest part of a cancer diagnosis is telling the people that you love that for some unknown reason this devastating illness has now selected you. It’s easy when you’re going through treatment yourself. I always think I have the easy job because I’m not watching myself go through it.
I started chemo soon after diagnosis. I was very sick, and I had hair loss and tiredness. I thought I’d find the hair loss really hard, but I didn’t. When I found out I would have treatment, I cut my long hair off and donated it.
Originally, I was told my cancer would be inoperable because it had spread to my right lung, but after three rounds of chemo I had a scan and it had reduced enough for surgery.
My surgery involved a radical hysterectomy, and the removal of my appendix, spleen, omentum and part of my liver, pancreas and diaphragm. Because I had part of my bowel removed, I was also given a colostomy bag. I didn’t even know what a colostomy was.
In the days following surgery, I faced an 18-inch scar, drain sites, drips, syringe drivers and a stoma. As the days turned to weeks, slowly these additions diminished. The drains were removed, the scars started to heal, the drips were wheeled away but one thing remained: the colostomy wasn’t going anywhere. It was a permanent feature.
Whilst it was hard to come to terms with at first, I began to realise that this was a result of life enhancing surgery. Later, I posted a blog and picture of me with my colostomy bag. I used to really care what I looked like, but recently I feel much more confident in my body. Treatment made me think about how amazing the human body is.
Seven months after starting chemotherapy, I was told there was no evidence of disease.
The power of positivity
I’m always of the opinion that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and I wasn’t going to let something silly like a cancer diagnosis change my opinion. I made the decision that I wanted as much positivity to come from my journey as possible.
I want to get the story out that you can be young and get ovarian cancer. I’m really active online on my blog and social media, trying to raise awareness of ovarian cancer in younger women, the symptoms, and why you should know your body. It’s really important to raise awareness. People sometimes say to me, "didn’t you have the smear tests?", and I have to correct them - cervical smear tests do not test for ovarian cancer. This year I’m writing a book off the back of my blog, I have been on STV in Scotland, and I also featured in a BBC Three documentary, 'My Digital Death'. I want to get discussions of cancer into people’s homes. I’m very passionate about that.
Savouring every second
Cancer is a gift because it wakes you up to a life half-lived and makes you see the beauty in every moment. It makes you savour every second. I am grateful for my cancer diagnosis because I am not sure all the motivational quotes in the world would have allowed me to see life, or the privilege it is to be alive, in the same way that I do now.
I’m now the happiest I’ve ever been because cancer has taught me to let gratitude, positivity and joy be the only goals in my life.