Working as an auxiliary nurse on a busy stroke unit, Sharon barely had time to think about the upcoming Christmas holiday, let alone her sudden weight gain, lack of appetite and chronic exhaustion. She could never have imagined that just over 6 months later, she would be undergoing a surgical hysterectomy and dealing with the shock of an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
I remember the moment I found out I had cancer. The doctor came into my hospital room and asked me to call my family in the following morning to discuss my test results. I’d been a nurse for long enough to know what that meant.
I first noticed something wasn’t quite right when, in December of 2008, I began feeling tired and gaining weight. I just assumed that I was probably going through the menopause. Over the next few months the tiredness got worse, and I started to struggle with the long shifts at work. I also needed to wee more frequently and developed a constant ache in my pelvis. My appetite waned and I’d find myself putting my fork down after a few mouthfuls; I felt full so quickly.
Even my work colleagues were concerned because I wasn’t myself. One even threatened to take me to the doctor if I didn’t make an appointment myself. I tried to make light of it at the time, but I couldn’t help feeling that, deep down, something really wasn’t quite right. My husband, Steve, was worried so I decided to finally make an appointment to see my GP. My doctor gave me an internal exam and found nothing wrong. But, when she pressed the top of my stomach, it made me wince. She suggested that I may have an ulcer, prescribed medication for dyspepsia (indigestion) and told me to come back in two weeks if the symptoms hadn’t improved.
Two days later I got up to answer a patient’s buzzer at work and was struck by severe stomach pain. I couldn’t move. I froze to the spot. The ward sister rushed over, put me in a wheelchair and took me straight down to A&E. She then called Steve, who dashed over from work
I was given an X-ray and CT scan, which showed a cyst on my right ovary the size of a football. Initially I felt relief because I finally had an explanation for my symptoms, but that evening the doctor asked me to call my family into the hospital to discuss the results. I knew what that meant.
The next morning, myself, my husband, and my two sons were told by the doctor that he was 99 per cent sure that my ‘cyst’ was in fact ovarian cancer. I couldn’t really take it all in. I remember looking over at my family. They were just staring at the doctor, completely speechless. They couldn’t believe it either. I spent the next five weeks having pre-op assessments. It was the longest five weeks of my life. By this point, I’d researched ovarian cancer and was pretty terrified. But my four sisters and friends were wonderful, and between them, made sure I was never alone.
Treatment and beyond
On 8 June, I spent three-and-a-half hours in theatre having a full hysterectomy and removal of my omentum. When I came round, I had a scar running from beneath my belly button down to my pubic bone, but my swollen stomach was back to normal. The surgeon then told me that he hadn’t seen any sign of spread. I burst into very happy tears!
After the surgery my energy levels returned and I felt like me again. Four weeks later, I went back to get the results, and was told that I’d had stage 1C ovarian cancer. To be sure that any stray cancer cells were caught, I’d need six cycles of chemotherapy.
My first cycle wasn’t too bad – I just felt tired and a bit nauseous. My second cycle fell on my 50th birthday. It wasn’t how I planned to spend it but the nurses made a lovely fuss of me. My family and friends helped out with shopping, cooking and kept me company throughout my treatment. Never in my life have I felt so cherished.
Trusting my body
The final cycle was on 18 December, and a scan in early 2010 showed I was cancer-free. I’d done my research, so it was no surprise when I was told that the disease could come back. But – at this moment - it was great to be able to tell my family that it had gone.
For months afterwards, I struggled with the fear of the cancer returning and fretted about every single ache or pain. But I’ve learned to trust how well I know my body. That’s what I’d like people to perhaps learn and understand from my experience - trust your instincts when it comes to your body and be aware of ovarian cancer symptoms. Looking back, I see that I had every classic symptom and would have gone to the doctor sooner if I’d known. I ignored what my body was trying to tell me, and I never will again.
A huge thank you to Sharon for her incredible fundraising for us, including a skydive and zipwire!
- Read more about the symptoms of ovarian cancer
- Start Making Noise this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month