Christine gave a speech at parliament for the launch of Pathfinder 2016. She tells us how lucky she feels that the GP she saw was so clued up about ovarian cancer but that it shouldn't come down to luck and every woman should have the same chance.
I was a fit and healthy person who led an active life, climbed hills and ate fairly sensibly. I took my health seriously, went for regular cervical screening and mammograms and sent away my bowel test envelope. Although I didn’t go out of my way to find out about diseases I would read articles, glance at posters in train stations and catch the odd advert on TV and as a result I am able to name a few symptoms of bowel, lung and even prostate cancer. I have to admit however that, although I’d heard of ovarian cancer, I could not have named a single symptom prior to diagnosis. However in spite of my ignorance mine is a lucky if slightly unusual story.
I’d been feeling tired and a bit under the weather for several months but I’m a teacher and we are always tired! The half term holiday was approaching and we had booked a cottage for a week in north Wales where we hoped to explore the area, do a lot of walking and above all climb Snowden. In the week leading up to the holiday I seemed to lose my appetite which was unusual for me. At the same time I felt full and appeared to be putting on weight as fastening my trouser buttons was getting harder. I considered making an appointment with my GP but just didn’t have time.
The bloating got worse and I started to think it was maybe linked to the constipation I was having more frequently. I remembered TV adverts about constipation and bloating in older people and had to reluctantly admit I was indeed getting older!
The day before we reached Wales we spent a day in Chester and I started to get worried. I was becoming more and more unwell, hardly able to eat and my tummy was like a drum. I didn’t want it to ruin our holiday so decided to phone ahead for an appointment with a local GP. Once we’d established I wasn’t a Welsh speaker, I told him all my symptoms, he listened, examined me and then brought my partner in. He told me to abandon the holiday, go home, see my own GP and get tests started as soon as possible.
We had a very long journey north the following day. It was my birthday and all my family and friends were texting “Happy birthday! Enjoy Wales! Send us photos of Snowden!” I said nothing but I think I travelled in a bubble of shock and uncertainty. Above all I felt a sense of urgency to get to the bottom of the problem. I don’t remember even considering it could be cancer.
Everything happened very quickly after that. Blood tests, ultrasound, CT scan, fluid drained and biopsy. I was diagnosed within a month and had surgery a week after that. My initial disappointment at having my holiday cancelled soon turned to relief that my cancer had been spotted and treatment started so quickly. I was so lucky that the first GP I spoke to was clearly clued up on ovarian cancer and knew what to look for, I can only imagine how things might have been if I hadn’t seen someone so well informed.
I didn’t know anyone with ovarian cancer. I had a lot of worries and questions…such as what surgery would involve, what side effects I’d have from chemotherapy etc. Surgery had happened so quickly that I had no time to do research and I like to know things! The consultants in my team took time to explain everything to me and my partner and listen to our questions and make us feel part of the process. I’m not sure I took everything in but I realised quickly that I had complete trust in them and that helped.
My wonderful specialist nurse, Kathleen, introduced herself to me early and told me she’d be with me throughout my journey which was reassuring. I knew she was just a phone call away and I could share any of my concerns with her. She introduced me to Target Ovarian Cancer by sending me a flyer for one of their Being Together days. The idea of going through treatment without the support of someone like Kathleen is terrifying.
My partner was supportive and solid and I was fortunate to be able to share my concerns with him. I don’t have children but lots of siblings, nieces, nephews and friends. They were initially shocked and upset but very supportive. It was important for me to show them I was coping and all was well even when sometimes it wasn’t. I sent detailed but humorous emails about every stage of my treatment. They told me how positive and amazing I was when I often wasn’t but maybe I needed their compliments.
But the truth is that no-one knows how you are really feeling and sometimes you realise that no-one around you can if they are not in your shoes. I have mostly been upbeat, practical and hopeful but I have to admit that at times I have felt low and anxious both during and especially after treatment and of course I worry about recurrence, but not all the time. It’s now over two years since I finished treatment and I am doing well so far. It took a lot longer than expected to regain my strength and stamina but I am now back hill walking. This year I walked in the Italian Dolomites, the English lakes and of course the Highlands where I did my first post diagnosis Munro.
Snowdon is still waiting . . . a special treat!
Being involved in Pathfinder has helped me realise how lucky I’ve been. I am forever grateful to my team at Raigmore Hospital and especially Kathleen for her constant support. Above all I can never thank enough my wonderful Welsh GP who acted quickly and sent me home from my holiday.
However I cannot get over how wrong it is that it was down to luck.
The reason I am involved in Pathfinder 2016 and support its findings is that I want to make sure that every woman receives the same care and support that I did, that it’s not down to luck, and that every woman is given the same chance of beating this disease.