When the hospital letter dropped through her letterbox, Elisabeth had no idea that the contents would have such a huge impact on her life. Here she talks about the confusion surrounding her diagnosis and why she proves that there is life after cancer…
I first found out about my cancer through a letter.
When I started bleeding I decided to go and see my doctor. Other than some digestive problems, I’d had minimal symptoms. When you’re over 60, sometimes you take the occasional digestive issue as something that just happens.
After a visit to the gynaecologist, I underwent a biopsy which showed the lining of my womb had thickened. A little while afterwards I received a hospital letter – one that was couched in medical language. Confused, I went to see my GP and was told I had womb (uterine) cancer. Later, my surgeon explained that I should actually have been called into the hospital to receive my results – rather than being sent a letter.
It was during my operation that they found further tumours which had spread through the pelvic area. The histology report later revealed that, as well as womb cancer, I had high grade serous ovarian cancer.
I think the most difficult aspect was the lack of knowledge and understanding of my diagnosis to start with, as I wasn’t given all the facts until I moved to another hospital for treatment. Before, it had been confusing because there had been no clear indication of what was wrong with me until I sat down with the doctor. I know that I am in the minority and it’s very unusual to have to wait so long to have your diagnosis of ovarian cancer fully explained to you, what it means and what will happen next. Once I was with my doctors in the new hospital I had excellent care.
In addition to surgery, I had chemotherapy, with six cycles of paclitaxel and carboplatin - and I’m still on bevacizumab (Avastin®) until December. I now see the oncologist every six weeks for checkups.
Although the news was a shock, I felt reassured when I had all the information explained to me. I guess it was even more of a shock because 19 and 26 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. But I’m still here and feel that I’m lucky; if it hadn't been for the womb cancer I don't know how soon I would have discovered that I had ovarian cancer.
I don’t think my diagnosis changed me much as a person. After the operation, I was able to take time off work, but I didn’t really dwell on things. I didn’t panic because that’s just not me; perhaps I was hiding my head in the sand but I’m all about just getting things done. The diagnosis of breast cancer years before has made me resolute and determined to live and enjoy life. If I had to point out the biggest change it would be paying much more attention to what I eat and drink – I want to give my body as much help as possible to be well and help me fight the cancer.
These days I enjoy walking my dogs – two cocker spaniels. I also recently started a new job doing four days a week at a small company, which suits me, and I’m also doing a life coaching course part-time. What is most important to me is spending time with family and friends, especially our children and seven grandchildren, and my sisters in Holland and Vienna. Most of all, I’m happy to be living.
I feel very positive, and probably the main reason for this is that I am not dealing with it alone, I have a massive network of support and a lot of people to live for! I have had amazing support from my husband, my children, and my friends, especially before and after the operation and throughout the months of chemo. My son flew over from Sydney two days before my operation and stayed for two weeks to make sure I was OK, and while I was ill my husband fetched and carried and ensured I didn't lift a finger. My friends showered me with gifts and moral support, which was wonderful.
I know my story is not a classic, but if anyone can get anything out of it – if only just to gain some strength and be positive when you are diagnosed - that’s great. I really want to raise awareness and give other people hope. Your life is not always over just because you’ve been diagnosed. There is life beyond cancer.