Pam was diagnosed with Stage IIIA ovarian cancer in 2006. She explains why she’s never asked, ‘Why me?’ and how she’s stayed positive through thirteen rounds of treatment…
I’d never been ill before in my life. I was really fit and healthy, I’d never smoked and I breastfed all three of my children. I just didn’t feel like I was a candidate for cancer. So when I found a round lump above my pubic bone I just put it to the back of my mind. I had no other symptoms and assumed it was a fibroid and nothing to worry about. A few months later my colleagues persuaded me to visit the GP and she sent me for a scan to be on the safe side. She didn’t seem worried either.
When I got the results I was shell-shocked. Within a few days I was sent to Manchester to see a surgeon who later confirmed I had a malignant tumour and that the cancer had spread into my peritoneum and omentum. It felt as though he was talking about somebody else. I had a big operation to remove my ovaries, uterus and the surrounding lymph nodes (I’ve got a scar from my pubic bone almost up to my sternum!) and my diagnosis was confirmed: stage IIIA ovarian cancer.
I went home and had a good cry because it was quite a shock. The news took a few days to sink in. But I didn’t say to myself, ‘why me?’ because I always think, ‘why not?’. People go to hospital for all sorts of different chronic conditions and have treatment that’s not very pleasant – I can do that too. And that’s what we did.
My oncologist has always encouraged me to participate in decisions about my treatment. Ten or 20 years ago the doctor was the doctor and the patient was seen and not heard but now the attitude is changing rapidly and we’re not frightened to ask questions. That’s such a good thing. I’ve had probably 12 or 13 different combinations of treatment – about one a year - and they’ve all been different. That means we’re into the thirteenth year post-diagnosis and I’m still here and living life to the full!
I’ve had a lot of support. My family have looked after me really well and my husband John is marvellous! We go to the hospital every three weeks – we have done for years, so it’s just part of our routine. You get to know everyone there and they all know you, even the catering staff! It’s usually quite a long day so we come out of the hospital for a couple of hours and we’ll go and have a bite to eat or a coffee and that balances it a little bit. Going through all that chemotherapy is not pleasant but if you’ve got plans for nice little things – and it doesn’t have to be big – that keeps us going.
I also have a very strong faith and it’s a big part of who I am. I think that some people feel let down by God because they have this diagnosis but I just put it all in His hands and I feel so supported.
I wanted to get involved in the TAKE OVAR campaign to encourage others. I want to tell them that this diagnosis is not the end of the world. There’s a lot of people out there living with a condition like this and having a very good quality of life. You’ve got to live for the day and keep on planning things ahead. We put things in the diary and we think, ‘we’ll be able to do that if everything’s alright at that point.’ You can’t set anything in stone but that doesn’t stop us planning. We’ve had to forgo a few holidays but I’m still here now and still able to plan for the future.
We’ve all got a finite life. But when you get a diagnosis like this you think the end is going to come sooner. I want people to realise that you can enjoy life as much as you ever did for a very long period of time these days. I’m just so grateful for all the work that’s gone into research and fundraising and awareness raising; we’ve got some fantastic brains in this country and wonderful research centres. But earlier diagnosis is the key to this really. I would love to see an early diagnostic tool developed and I just pray that they’ll come up with something soon.