Pat, who lives in Belfast, had been experiencing symptoms for over two years before eventually being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Here she talks about her quest to find answers, her overwhelming positivity and how chemotherapy allowed her to explore her creative side…
Just because you have ovarian cancer doesn’t mean you have to feel alone; you’re never alone. Each day brings another diagnosis; a new treatment; a different story. All you can do is stay positive and never give up.
I had been visiting my GP for two years due to frequent urination. I could never seem to get a full night’s sleep, and I would be up 10 times during the night. My doctor eventually referred me to a bladder clinic where I was told I’d be given a prescription and physiotherapy. When I didn’t hear anything back from the clinic, I forgot about it.
A year later, I received a letter from the clinic giving me another appointment. I phoned them back and told them that I didn’t really see the point in going since they had never sent me a prescription or a physiotherapy appointment after the last time. That afternoon my GP phoned to say my prescription was ready to pick up, I asked from whom and was told that it was from the bladder clinic – one whole year later. Apparently the delay was due to a clerical error. To say I was angry was an understatement.
Then, in April, during a trip to Scotland to see a friend, I began experiencing terrible pain in my right side. I could hardly walk and when I passed urine the pain in my side got worse. I got an appointment with my doctor and I explained my symptoms. She felt my stomach and said there was nothing untoward but that she would send me for a scan. I got the appointment for my scan six months later. That was the day I was told I had stage IV high grade serous ovarian cancer.
After a small operation for a biopsy, I was told I had a tumour in my fallopian tube and that I would need a hysterectomy. I went away to wait for the operation but was called back in so they could explain more to me. I was expecting to be given some pre-op tests but instead I was told that I wasn’t going to have a hysterectomy at that time, without any explanation. I thought I was going to get the operation; I had had no idea that it was going to be this news.
I’m currently having chemo – taxol and carboplatin. I’ve responded really well to treatment so far and of the 10 tumours in my abdomen, five have disappeared, and five have shrunk to the size of a marble.
I met some lovely people during my treatment – including women who had a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. That’s where I got the idea to play around and get creative with scarves. It got to the point where other women would ask me for advice! It’s also where I heard about Ovarian Warriors – a Facebook group for women with ovarian cancer in Northern Ireland. Reading other people’s stories and being able to give support – it’s all very positive.
At the end of my six cycles of chemotherapy they will reassess whether I can get a hysterectomy.
I think the hardest part was telling people and having to see my family upset. I feel like I’ve had a good life, but the news was obviously a huge shock for my daughter. I’m aware of the pitfalls of ovarian cancer – how hard it is – but I’m determined to live well and do the best that I can.
I think it’s extremely important to raise awareness of ovarian cancer. I had always thought cervical screening detected ovarian cancer - and it doesn't. I also want more GPs to recognise the signs and symptoms so that women aren’t diagnosed at stage IV – like me.
Having cancer has definitely changed me for the better. It’s made me stronger and brought me closer to my loved ones. Since my diagnosis I have had lovely chats with my daughter, my son-in-law and my sisters. Spending time with my family and friends helps me keep my mind off of things. I have wonderful friends (we do like a wee G&T now and again) and we do Pilates, Zumba and generally have great fun!