When Ann was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she couldn’t help feeling ‘ripped off’. An active and health-conscious 51-year-old, Ann struggled to accept that her healthy lifestyle hadn’t prevented her from becoming unwell. Here she talks about the importance of listening to your body, and why she sees cancer as only a temporary setback...
Don’t ignore anything that feels like something different is happening to your body. I thought it was just the end of my menopause but it wasn't. I thought I just had a cough but I had fluid around my lung. I thought I was 'just tired', but it was much more serious.
I was 51 years old when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I wasn’t aware of the symptoms. My mum died of cervical cancer so that has always been more at the front of my brain.
Although I was stunned I think I knew that deep down something had not been 'right' for a while.
I had the urgency to wee, a bit of a bloated stomach, tiredness and a cough and spotting. I also had a very sore left arm which I couldn't straighten. We’re not sure if this was a symptom, but it went away after my operation. Looking back, I feel I had symptoms starting about five months before I was diagnosed. My tumour was huge with only a few months of symptoms; if the disease could have hidden for a bit longer I don't think I'd be here.
I think the worst part was knowing that the hysterectomy wasn't the end of it. I had to deal with chemotherapy with a stomach that wasn't healed properly. Life revolves around appointments; you are scared; you feel like your life is on hold. Before I got ill I was really healthy and I barely drank. I never smoked or did drugs, and I still got poorly. You can be the healthiest person and still get this disease.
I don’t think my attitude towards my body changed much after my diagnosis. I've put on a bit of weight, and had a lot of hair loss. The wound down my stomach was a bit overwhelming at first, but it's healing well and once the swelling went down it was easier to deal with. I think that I have a very positive attitude which has also helped. I'm lucky; I know that it's all temporary.
Since my operation and chemotherapy, my body has slowly rejuvenated itself. You suddenly realise that you're not so exhausted after a shower, that you don't have to sit down to get dressed, and that you can leave the house soon after getting ready instead of having a rest for an hour. Driving is also tiring, I can only go around 20 miles in distance. I'm not sure if this is my body or concentration levels that are lower, as I end up worn out if I go much further. Concentrating on things like reading has come back a little, and my memory is still not as good as it was – but it’s definitely better than it has been. I enjoy walking my dog further and further every day.
I have burning and tingling feet (peripheral neuropathy) – that’s been hard, it’s pretty awful. I've tried cream, but will be going back to the doctor as it's not working for me. I also get aches at times, like flu. This can last a few hours, then goes. My hair is growing back fast as it always did – my eyebrows and eyelashes are back now which is great.
Emotionally, I feel much better, partly because I’m not on steroids, which took me on an emotional rollercoaster. Keeping my mind going forward is important to me, healing and restoring myself, and not feeling guilty when I watch a whole series on Netflix! I've also had support from Maggie’s in Edinburgh – they were great.
I guess we concentrate a lot on breast and cervical cancer. It seems like not many women, myself included, know much about ovarian cancer. I'd like something to be done at 50, something like the screening we get for bowel and breast cancer.
I have had the best care possible. I can't speak highly enough of the nurses, surgeons and doctors I have encountered. It has definitely aided my recovery. They go above and beyond their jobs, every day.
Now I'm planning things for next year when I should start feeling better. I have Pilates lined up to help my stomach muscles get better, I'm cooking new things to help with my diet and there are things I want to do in my home to renovate it. I’m also planning a holiday very soon; that will be wonderful.
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