If diagnosed early enough, 90 per cent of women with ovarian cancer will survive for five years or more. Yet according to recent figures, a third of women are only diagnosed following an admission to an accident and emergency unit. So what happens when a visit to A&E turns your life upside down? Here Annette tells us her story and explains why she’s finally learning to wear her scars with pride…
I was 45 years old when I was told I had ovarian cancer.
I’d been going back and forth to my GP for months complaining of weight loss, poor appetite, fatigue, diarrhoea and lower back pain. Despite only being 5’3 and weighing below 7 stone, when I told my GP I could not put on weight, she dismissed my concerns and told me that “many women would be glad to be like that”. That remark will always stay with me.
I was finally diagnosed with ovarian cancer after being admitted to A&E with severe pelvic and back pain. Initially, the doctors thought I had a ruptured ovarian cyst, and I was immediately sent for an ultrasound and an emergency laparoscopy to remove my left ovary and fallopian tube. The next morning the consultant came to see me and give me the news that I had ovarian cancer.
I was in total shock. It was a very surreal experience – almost like it was happening to someone else. I was alone at the time and my first thought was about how I was going to tell my family the news. I have two sons, and I was anxious about how they would cope. From my point of view, there were a lot of mixed emotions and worries about whether my diagnosis meant I was going to die.
During an appointment with my oncologist, I was told that my cancer was incurable and that the treatment I would be having was palliative only. I found this very difficult, and I definitely think this had a negative impact on me.
I was given a complete hysterectomy, followed by removal of my omentum, a bowel resection, and removal of several lymph nodes. Overall I was in surgery for around eight hours, and I spent the following day in the Intensive Care Unit. After my surgery, I started chemotherapy (carboplatin/taxol). I had 6 cycles in total and finished treatment in April 2013.
I think the most difficult aspect of my diagnosis was having to tell my family and then worrying about how they would cope. At the beginning everyone was in total shock, but when it sunk in they were unbelievably supportive. I can honestly say that I could not have got through it all without their help and support.
The other thing I struggled with was losing my hair. Having to get my head shaved was actually a really terrifying experience. Afterwards, I felt a little like I lost my identity - like I was a different person wearing a wig. I also really hated the scar I had on my stomach from my surgery. At the time, it was very red and very ugly.
I wanted to share my story to try and help other women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I have read the stories on Target Ovarian Cancer’s website and found them very helpful and supportive.
I think it is extremely important to raise awareness of ovarian cancer because I had very little knowledge of the symptoms before I got ill. I’m sure there are a lot of women out there who still don’t know the symptoms, and I want to help in any way I can. There needs to be better information about the symptoms and quicker action to speed diagnosis. I was neglected, and I could have been diagnosed a lot earlier.
Remission & the future
Although I am currently in remission, since my treatment finished, I have suffered from anxiety, fatigue, panic attacks and constant worry about the cancer returning. When life gets back to normal it’s like you’re expected to return to normal, but I found I wasn’t the same person. I had a lot of emotions to cope with. For me, this was probably the most difficult time.
I went to counselling with a cancer support group, and I attended different courses to help me move on. From my own experience, I would say that there isn’t enough support after treatment. I had to seek out support for myself.
Since my diagnosis, I have learnt not to push myself too hard. I’m also at peace with the idea that I’m not the same person as before, and I try not to be too hard on myself. On a brighter note, I’m now a much more positive person; I embrace life and try not to worry about the trivial things. I’m also more confident in my appearance – especially my new hair. When it grew back I kept it very short and grey, which saves a fortune on colours and styles! I’ve even learnt to love my scar; it’s part of my journey and helps show how much I have come through.