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When Sara was diagnosed with stage III/IV ovarian cancer, all sorts of questions ran through her head, but the one she remembers most clearly is this: ‘will I live to see Christmas?’ Here Sara talks about mortality, the misconceptions surrounding late stage ovarian cancer and why she’s determined not to let her diagnosis define her…

Sometimes I worry about the end, but I also worried about dying long before I developed cancer too. I try to be a positive person and get on with my life. I cycle regularly, although at a slower pace during and after treatment, which has been a big lift for me. It’s so good to get back into things that I was doing before my diagnosis.

Cycling

In October 2017, some friends and I started training for The Nightrider in London. We were out cycling two or three evenings a week and I started to lose weight. I just thought it was a side effect of the training, so I didn’t think any more of it. Apart from that, I don’t feel I had any specific symptoms. I had a good appetite and no bloating. I’ve had IBS for about 20 years, so although I had the odd stomach twinge and constipation, I thought it was due to that.

A few months later, I came back from holiday and started suffering with bad constipation. I went to the GP and she did a CA125 blood test. After the appointment, the GP called me back and told me she was a bit worried because my CA125 was quite high at 299. She said I would need an ultrasound scan.

I had to wait about a week for the scan – and that was a bit of a worrying time. I finally got the results and it showed a seven centimetre growth on my right ovary. The GP told me it looked like ovarian cancer.

Positive

I was referred to the local oncology service where the surgeon told me the cancer was stage III/IV and he would operate within a week. The week after I saw a clinical nurse specialist and she made me feel more hopeful. I was wondering if I was going to see Christmas, and everyone helped me to see that it was possible to survive for a long time with this disease.

It was decided that surgery would be delayed to see if they could shrink the tumour first. I went on a clinical trial - ICON 8b trial – chemotherapy weekly, which meant two days a week at the hospital. After three rounds of chemotherapy I had a full hysterectomy, bowel resection and removal of my appendix, peritoneum and part of the surface of my liver.

Chemotherapy did not affect me as much as I thought it might. I lost hair, eyebrows, lashes and had a metallic taste for some of the time, but didn't feel tired or fatigued. Now my treatment is complete, I’ll stay on Avastin for another year.

Being ‘me’

I knew about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, because the symptoms were similar to my IBS, I was taken unawares.

There’s so little out there about ovarian cancer and I find that quite worrying. A lot of the cancers are in the media, but I don’t see ovarian cancer there. I think it’s so important to be aware of the symptoms – especially if you have IBS because this could mask it.

As for me, apart from cycling, I love doing pottery, yoga and walking my two dogs. My children are all grown up but still keep me busy! I am very lucky to have had the most amazing support from family and friends throughout the whole process, which has helped with being positive in a very negative situation.

I’m in the hospital once a week at the moment, but I want to spend as little time as a cancer patient as possible. I want to visit family and friends and hope to return to work soon. Mostly, I want to spend my time being me!

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