For many women, receiving an ovarian cancer diagnosis can be frightening. When Ivana was diagnosed in 2015, she found herself struggling to cope with feelings of fear, isolation, uncertainty - and acceptance. Now, two years on, she reflects on the rollercoaster of emotions surrounding her diagnosis, the importance of early detection and how Target Ovarian Cancer has helped her to feel less alone…
Denial, fear, hope, determination, shame, guilt, blame, anger, regret, sadness and heartache: it’s been nearly two years since I was first diagnosed and I’m still learning to live with these emotions. The emotional toll can be really difficult to deal with, but I try to see cancer as a friend who came to show me what’s really important in life. It’s not always easy, but I try to live more fully and be more present – both for myself and the people I love.
I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was 35.
The symptoms were very hard to recognise and I thought they were related to a busy work routine. I was a bit bloated, had a slight backache and felt more tired than normal. I’d also put on some weight around my belly, but it was summer and hard to tell for sure.
By the time I found a lump on my belly and went to see the doctor, the symptoms had been going on for a few months. Luckily, my GP acted really fast and organised an ultrasound for the same day. She also did blood tests and referred me for an MRI scan.
After seeing a specialist gynaecologist I was told I might need surgery and I remember asking if they thought it was cancer. They told me that although they were pretty sure they couldn’t say for certain. It was only after my surgery that I got an official diagnosis. When I heard it, it felt like the earth opened up under my feet and dragged me in. I had a nurse specialist there, but I was in so much shock, I didn’t know I could ask for emotional support.
Although I’d been trying to come to terms with the idea that I might have cancer, I still felt really vulnerable, scared and hurt when they told me. It was a real rollercoaster of emotions and a huge shock for everyone – especially my partner and close family.
Going through chemotherapy was also difficult for me. The drugs were pretty harsh on my system and I felt really tired. My two last cycles had to be postponed because of low white blood cell count. The strangest part was losing my eyelashes and eyebrows; I felt like an alien.
I was very weak at the end of the chemo, but I started to build up a bit of stamina and enjoy getting out and about in the summer. Then, in July and August, I began feeling tired again, and I had a pain in the right of my ribcage. A CT scan showed there was reoccurring fluids in my abdomen and around the liver.
I was offered more chemotherapy but I didn’t want to do that to my body again. For the last year I have been monitored. Waiting to see what is happening and how fast the cancer is growing – this is my choice. I don't want to go back on chemotherapy yet. But I know that when my symptoms worsen, it will unavoidable.
An ovarian cancer diagnosis and recurrence is all about learning to live with mortality and uncertainty – that’s hard. Learning to deal with these emotions is an ongoing process, and I have good days and bad days.
The psychological impact of cancer was devastating and I felt isolated and like a burden on everyone. I also got depression, and felt ashamed to ask for help. Fortunately, I was able to access counselling and therapy, and I’m finding it really helpful. Not everyone gets it, so it’s been great to be able to access one-to-one support.
The impact of ovarian cancer was and still is huge for me and my loved ones. It sucks – and getting the right support is crucial at this difficult time. That’s where Target Ovarian Cancer comes in. Through the charity, I’ve been able to get support, more information on my diagnosis, and meet other women without feeling awkward, which is so important to me.
I found out about Target Ovarian Cancer and their Being Together events from a friend. I went along to two workshops – one about diet and one about emotional freedom techniques – and learnt lots of helpful information and skills. When you have cancer, feelings of isolation and awkwardness can become part of your life. I felt lucky to be able to come along to a Being Together day, and it was really good to be able to talk and share experiences. I really appreciate the work that Target Ovarian Cancer does. And if there are women out there who are feeling isolated and ashamed to ask for help, I want to tell them that they deserve help and they shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask for it.
The problem with ovarian cancer is that it’s mostly found in the later stages. It’s so important to raise awareness because it might help someone spot the symptoms earlier and go to the GP sooner. I think it’s also important for GPs to act more quickly. I was lucky with my GP, but not everyone has the same luck.
I think my diagnosis has definitely changed the way I look at life. Cancer has taught me so much. Mostly it’s about appreciating life and embracing all the experiences you can have.
Ivana is one of the the models in our campaign It's time to TAKE OVAR. She spoke to us backstage at the photoshoot this summer, watch her video.
Join the campaign and together we can make sure women in the UK have the best chances of survival.