For three years, Wendy went back and forth to her GP complaining of stomach pains, bloating and fatigue. She was told that her symptoms were the result of the menopause, stress and anaemia. She never imagined that she might have ovarian cancer…
I was 49 years old when I first made an appointment to see my GP.
I’d been having increasingly heavy periods and feeling really quite tired and lethargic. Over the next three years I visited the GP on several occasions, and I was told lots of different things - either it was my age, stress (I was a head teacher), TATT (Tired All the Time) or possibly anaemia. I was given several courses of iron tablets but no other medication.
Towards the end of the time before diagnosis in 2002, I was experiencing a swollen tum, feeling full and having bad diarrhoea immediately after eating. I also nearly fainted a few times and had to rest and put my head down below my knees to feel balanced again. Eventually, I was referred for an ultrasound scan in case it was fibroids.
I had one ultrasound scan in a health centre, another in the hospital, a trans-vaginal scan, a CA125 blood test, a consultant radiologist appointment and a gynae consultant appointment. I remember asking at all the appointments, “Is it cancer?” Although everyone was so reassuring, I was so tired and lethargic that I just knew something was wrong. When they told me that they suspected that it might be cancer it was actually a relief. The diagnosis didn’t feel difficult. I was relieved to know what it was and to get on with getting over it. I just wanted to get it fixed.
Love and support
I had a total hysterectomy and the surgeon removed my omentum. When I went back for the consultation with the oncologist, he said everything was all borderline and that I wouldn’t need any further treatment - just monitoring for five years.
My husband was absolutely brilliant about it all. I had decided not to tell anyone what was happening during the initial investigations, but as soon as I was scheduled for surgery I told my close friends and family. My husband really kept my spirits up and my fears at bay. He’d just say “We’ll get over this” and he really believed that we would. I think my parents were very shocked by the news. They were also sad that I hadn’t told them earlier, but I wanted to spare everyone the worry. All my other family and friends were great… sending messages, flowers, prayers; they were all very supportive and lovely.
It’s funny. I rarely doubted I’d be OK. However, after the operation, when I experienced anything that felt a bit dodgy, especially weird happening in my abdomen, I’d think “Is this something I should worry about?” That thought is always there I think, hidden away at the back of my mind.
I think the biggest change for me is the re-evaluation of priorities. Before I’d got ill I’d been sad about childlessness and infertility, but afterward I felt so lucky that I had a wonderful husband, family and friends to support me. It’s also made me more focused on looking after my health and fitness. I want to stay healthy for as long as I can.
I had four months off work after the op, and then went back to full time teaching before retiring after seven years. Nowadays, I love travelling and looking at museums and art collections. I also really enjoy writing. It gives me a way of ordering and organising my thoughts.
Making a difference
I’ve been committed about sharing my story. I’ve never stopped being aware of how lucky I am to be still well after all this time. Many friends in the ovarian cancer community are still fighting the disease. Now that I’m retired, I feel that I can give a little time to raising awareness of this disease. I volunteer for various gynae-cancer charities and I’ve met a wonderful network of fellow-patients through this. I have run tea parties, raffles, collected donations in my local town centre and taken part in a half marathon walk.
As well as sitting on the Essex NSSG for gynae cancer, I also liaise with our local CNS and have supported a move to get gynae services re-sited to a more suitable ward at the local hospital.
I went to a Target Ovarian Cancer Being Together day in Southend ages ago and it was very enjoyable. I also met another ovarian cancer patient there, who is also a volunteer for Target Ovarian Cancer. We often work together. I’m always looking for ways in which I can spread the word.
My main aim remains to have women more aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. For me raising awareness is vital, simply vital. Too many women are diagnosed too late - so many wonderful women with the potential to live to fulfilled later years. So much talent is wasted through early death. I’ve been so lucky. I don’t want to waste that luck.