I would have recognised the symptoms sooner and paid more attention to what my body was trying to tell me. I would have known that others were there to help, and that I didn’t have to feel alone…
Looking back, I had all the classic symptoms of ovarian cancer – I just didn’t know it at the time. In 2011, I began suffering from indigestion and bloating, and my GP couldn’t work out what was wrong. I don’t think either of us really considered that it could be cancer. Fortunately, I’d been having annual blood tests for the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS), so when my blood levels were raised in September 2010, I was quickly sent for more tests.
A week later the results came back. I had primary peritoneal cancer (similar to ovarian cancer and treated in the same way.) When my doctor broke the news I didn’t cry or fall to bits. I didn’t think I was emotional until I got home from the hospital and heard a piece of music that I love come on the radio. It would have made me cry anyway, but I just remember listening to that music and breaking down. That was the only time I really cried.
I found writing down my symptoms and feelings helped a lot. If I’m having a bad day I can look back and see that things are going to get easier. It also gives you a reference to look back and spot the signs earlier. If you know your body and you know the symptoms, you can hassle your GP. My indigestion and bloating were both signs that something wasn’t right – I wish I’d known that.
I could not have done it at all without the support of my husband David. He came to every appointment with me. When I had surgery, he was waiting for me to return to the ward when he discovered I had been rushed back in to theatre with a ruptured spleen. I cannot imagine what he was going through at that moment.
Very early on I decided to share what was happening with all our family and friends. I didn’t want people to feel that the cancer was a taboo topic, or for anyone to feel awkward. I needed them to be normal with me. The messages of support that came back from people were wonderful. It meant so much to know that we weren’t alone.
Support from others
Knowing I had the support of my family and friends made an enormous difference, but I also needed support from someone independent, who wasn’t as emotionally connected, and that is where Target Ovarian Cancer came in.
Earlier this year I was able to attend one of Target Ovarian Cancer’s Being Together days. It was lovely to be able to connect with other women who understood some of my experience. It was also a relief to see that my story was helping others.
These events can make such a difference to women - particularly anyone struggling to cope or anyone in need of emotional support. I’m lucky because I received the right treatment and support at the right time, but I know that other people aren’t always as lucky. That’s why the work that Target Ovarian Cancer does is so important. Their information, support events and panel of experts helped me in a way that no one else could.
Hope for the future
World Ovarian Cancer Day takes place on 8 May every year, when women, friends and family members from across the globe come together to share their experiences.
This year we’re talking about “What I know now…” and sharing words of advice, guidance and even cautionary tales that we’ve built up over the years to answer the question: ‘If you knew then what you know now, what message would you share?’