Despite a family history of ovarian cancer, when Janet started experiencing lower abdominal pain, she struggled to get her doctor to send her for a scan or a CA125 blood test. Janet was eventually diagnosed with ovarian cancer and later suffered a recurrence of the disease. Despite this, she is very fit and recently ran a 10K for charity. She credits cancer with helping to free her from the shackles of a stressful job. She talks about recurrences, the importance of clinical trials, and why cancer is helping her to live her best life...
In some ways cancer has been a blessing. Before, I felt trapped. Now I go out for lunch with friends, I do yoga and I run; it’s actually freeing. Even though I’ve got cancer, I’m living a fantastic life.
My mother died of ovarian cancer in 2002.
I knew the symptoms and a little bit about the disease - I always had a feeling that it might be in the family but my GP refused to do any checks. We’ve since found out that two of Mum’s cousins have died of ovarian and breast cancer respectively.
The summer before I was diagnosed I had a pressure in my bowels. I was very tired and had terrible pain in my lower abdomen. I went to the doctor a few times - once they told me that it could be thrush, the next time that it might be a urine infection. Every time I went I mentioned my mum and my worries about ovarian cancer, but they didn’t even do the CA125 test. I think I wanted to be reassured, so I was happy to receive different explanations.
Finally I was referred for a non-urgent scan. At the hospital I saw an oncologist who told me that she was “99 per cent sure it was fibroids”. Fortunately, she sent me for a CA125 blood test, CT scan and an MRI. That was the first CA125 test I’d had. Later I went back to the GP and told them they should have done this test earlier - especially knowing my family history.
I had surgery in May and started chemo in the middle of June. For two-and-a-half years afterwards I was fine, but later I suffered a recurrence.
I had second and then third line chemo - and I’m now on olaparib. My tumour markers are rising slowly, so I’m looking to be on fourth line chemo in the very near future.
I also took part in the ICON 8 trial between the second and third line chemo. I’m hopefully going to start the MOTO trial soon. I’m keen to do as many clinical trials as possible because, not only does it give me access to the latest drugs, but I also want to help other women like myself. That’s also part of the reason I wanted to tell my story; I want to give people hope.
I think the most difficult thing for me was telling our sons. I didn’t tell them initially because I was in shock. In the end my husband did it because it was so hard.
I also struggled with the lack of support I was offered. I think that when you’re diagnosed, you should have more of a signpost to help deal with stress and mental health issues. I’m disappointed that I had to go and find these things myself. The clinicians deal with you as a patient, and when I’m at the hospital I definitely feel like a ‘cancer patient’. There is a complementary therapy team, but I had to ask to be referred there.
It’s important to enjoy life and make the most of every minute.
These days I exercise and do a lot of meditation, yoga and reiki. I try not to be stressed. For me, stress is a trigger, so I try to stay calm.
People really need to know about the symptoms of ovarian cancer so that they get to the doctor quickly. After my experience, I think it’s more important that GPs know about ovarian cancer and where to refer patients. The more people know -the more it’s in the public eye - the quicker they can be treated.
I recently did a charity fashion show with Maggie’s and I managed to get something in the local paper about ovarian cancer symptoms. We need to keep chipping away like that. Ovarian cancer should not take a backseat.