An experienced nurse, Sharon knew all about the importance of listening to her body. So when she noticed bleeding after going to the loo, she was quick to make an appointment to see her GP. Here she talks about going through ovarian cancer ‘solo’, the importance of staying vigilant and why having a routine kept her grounded…
I negotiated going back to work in between the chemo. I live on my own and having that social contact was so important to me. I think a lot of people thought I would retire because I’d had a cancer diagnosis, but work actually stopped my head from going to places I didn’t need it to go. Having a routine was helpful. Work kept me sane!
More of a problem
One day I was going to the toilet to pass urine and I noticed blood on the toilet paper. I’d already gone through the menopause so this was very unusual. Over that weekend I noticed more blood – but only a little at a time. On the Monday I decided to make an appointment with the GP. She examined me internally and ordered blood tests.
My CA125 was slightly raised. I asked the GP what a higher CA125 meant but she was very evasive, which didn’t help me. I’m a nurse and I just wanted to know the facts. I was worried about possible gynae problems so I rang the matron in the gynae ward for some support. They got me in quickly for a scan. The consultant didn’t think it would be ovarian cancer – just a cyst. It was only when I had a CT scan that there looked to be more of a problem.
I was quickly scheduled for surgery, which went well, but I had a difficult recovery because the wound wouldn’t heal. I had district nurses visiting nearly every day. Having different people treat me was quite distressing because they kept telling me different things. In the end I had to ring and ask for the same nurse. I finally got a bit more consistency, which was so much better.
After a few weeks my surgery wound began to heal – though I’m left with a scar on my tummy that looks like a London Underground map! Following this, I was diagnosed with Stage IC endometroid ovarian cancer.
In addition to the surgery I had carboplatin chemotherapy. The chemo unit was wonderful and my chemo nurse was great too. Because I wasn’t on taxol, I didn’t lose my hair. I think the worst symptoms I had from the chemotherapy was gastric irritation. I had terrible chest pains and they would last for about four hours.
I finished chemotherapy in 2017 and I now have follow up appointments every six months.
I think the hardest thing to deal with was the shock of the diagnosis. Before my surgery I was getting lots of indicators that it wasn’t cancer. I’d seen nurses and a doctor who had said it probably wouldn’t be, so it was such a shock to find out that it was.
Being a nurse and knowing about these things, I also dreaded being told what stage the cancer was. I almost wanted to hug the doctor when he told me it was stage I. That feeling was underlined when I went along to a recent Target Ovarian Cancer Being Together event. I went with a friend and we both came away feeling really grateful because our cancers had been diagnosed at stage I. I felt quite positive and grateful for just how early it had been caught. Even so, two years on, there’s always that fear at the back of your head. It’s scary, almost like PTSD. I’m terrified that it will come back and that fear is always there.
Live my life
When I first had the small bleed I told my friends about it. A lot of them said they would probably not go to the doctor with just a small bleed, but it’s so important to get anything unusual investigated. I’m part of a country music Facebook group. I shared my story on there and I’ve since had a few private messages from women who were experiencing symptoms themselves. I told them to go and get checked out. That was really important to me.
The clinical nurse specialist told me they would follow up with some support, but I never recieved the call. I often worry about people going through this on their own; there are a lot of solo people and it’s so important to reach out and help them. Support networks are so important to helping people through their diagnosis.
I want to help people get through chemotherapy. I had a friend at the time who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was my ‘chemo buddy’, we’d ring each other up and check in on each other. It's important to support each other.
As for me, I just carry on with things. My diagnosis will be with me for a long time, but now I just want to get on with my life.