Carol was 42 years old when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In the run-up to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, she talks about her diagnosis, the realities of treatment, and why she wants to show other women that there’s life after cancer. Sign up now to Start Making Noise this March.
I didn’t know anything about ovarian cancer when I got it. The symptoms were so quiet – I had no idea I was walking around with tumours in me until it was almost too late.
It was during a family holiday that I first noticed my stomach was swollen. At the time, we were all ill with tummy bugs, and I just thought the bloating was linked with this. When we got back I was still eating very little, so I decided to go to the GP.
The first GP I saw thought it was a bug, but when it turned out not to be bacterial, I went to see another doctor. This time I was given an abdominal examination and that’s when the doctor felt a lump.
Finally, I got the diagnosis: I was told it was stage IIIC high-grade serous papillary ovarian cancer and it had spread to my lymph nodes and liver.
Hearing those words was a huge shock to the system. You could’ve floored me. I had been taking myself along for tests, but I never thought it would be as serious as it was. Telling people about my diagnosis was really difficult - seeing their reactions and knowing that everyone was hurting for me.
I have a daughter who’s 14 and a son who’s 12. They were pretty devastated. It was hard telling my mum too – especially as she lost her own mum to cervical cancer. But everyone rallied around me and tried to keep me going.
Surgery and chemotherapy
I didn’t start treatment until a month later. The wait was really hard because you know what’s inside you and you worry that it’s spreading like wildfire. I didn’t want to know the scary statistics, I just wanted to get through chemo, one day at a time.
Although I lost my hair it wasn’t anything compared to losing my eyelashes and eyebrows. I was drawn and I looked ill. I did have a wig after the chemo, but during the chemo I used hats. I only wore my wig on special occasions like at Christmas. I thought of it like a good handbag!
After the first three rounds of chemotherapy I was referred to a surgeon. I was told that any operation might result in me waking up with a stoma, but I told them to do what they had to do because I just wanted to live. I had to wait until January for the cancer to disappear from my liver. I’m very proud of the surgical scar I’ve been left with because it shows what I’ve been through.
I don’t like people saying I’m brave. You have to just find the will to keep on living, and carry on. The most difficult part is when the treatment is over – the uncertainty. You’ve been in a treatment bubble. I liken it to one of those old-fashioned cartoon characters running off the edge of a cliff. Mentally, that’s a very hard time.
I can’t beat myself up for getting cancer, or ask myself “why me?” – that way madness lies.
The kicker with ovarian cancer is that it’s usually diagnosed late. I just want to raise awareness of the symptoms and let women who are going through it know that they aren’t alone. You don’t have to let your diagnosis take over your life. You had a life before cancer, you should have a life during and after cancer too.