Not everyone has the textbook symptoms of ovarian cancer…just ask Ann-Marie. Here she talks about her unusual route to diagnosis, the fear of the unknown and why, when it comes to ovarian cancer, knowing your body is just as important as knowing the symptoms.
Coming to terms with my diagnosis was really hard. They didn’t know what it was at first – either ovarian cancer or lymphoma. The fear of the unknown was really difficult because I didn’t know what would happen to me.
My symptoms began fairly innocuously. I was going out for the day when I felt pain in my leg. A few weeks later my leg had swollen up and I was having a lot of discomfort. At first I thought it might be my coil, but when I went to the Family Planning Clinic they said it was fine, so I wasn’t too worried.
Unfortunately the pain continued, and it got so bad that eventually, I went to A&E. They said it was probably something gynaecological and that they would refer me for an ultrasound scan. Two days later I got a call for an appointment with the consultant. They thought I had Deep Vein Thrombosis in my leg from the swelling and the fluid from my ovaries. The day after the phone call I was sent for a CT scan. At first they thought it could either be lymphoma or ovarian cancer. After undergoing a biopsy, they found out that it was ovarian cancer.
The doctor explained that I would need some chemotherapy before surgery. They explained that the operation could either come in-between chemotherapy cycles or at the end of the treatment. Not knowing was a bit nerve wracking.
I responded really well to chemotherapy and after my fourth cycle, they went in for surgery. The operation went really well and I was told I was cancer free.
I have two teenagers – a son and a daughter. When I told them about my diagnosis my son was OK but my daughter found it really difficult. I didn’t tell her for a little while at the beginning because I didn’t know what my diagnosis was. I just told her I was poorly and I had a bad stomach; I didn’t want to alarm her. At that point we were about to go on holiday for three weeks and I didn’t want to put a dampener on that. When we got home, I sat her down and told her I had cancer in my tummy. I didn’t want to say ‘ovarian’ because I didn’t want to confuse her. She was upset, but she coped so well after. She did cry, but I think because I’d already told her I wasn’t very well, it made it easier for her. Both my kids have been so good through my treatment.
There have been a few other difficult aspects of my diagnosis, particularly little things like not having the energy to do everyday things around the house. When I spoke to my doctor, he said my cancer had probably been there for a while. That thought scares me. How long had it been there? Fear of recurrence also really gets me. I read a lot of stories and I don’t like to think about recurrence. I just want to live my life.
Know your body
Now I want people to be aware of changes in their body. I had unusual symptoms – leg problems are not usually to do with ovarian cancer – so it’s not always the traditional symptoms you have to watch out for. We should all know our bodies. I’m really glad I’ve responded well to the chemo and treatment.