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Andrea with her daughter

Our Pathfinder 2016 report found that only 20 per cent of women can name bloating as a symptom of ovarian cancer and that nearly half of GPs believe the symptoms only present in the later stages of the disease. For years Andrea had been told that her stomach pains and bloating were due to IBS. But a quick Google of her symptoms revealed that it might be something far more serious…

Like most people, I like to make plans.

Whether it’s going on holiday with my husband or spending time with my family and friends: I like to have things to look forward to. The difference for me now is that I’ll always have that little caveat of not planning things too far in advance.

I’d already been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome when I began to notice that my tummy was becoming really, really bloated – at one stage I looked about 7 months pregnant!  I saw a doctor and was given a different IBS medication to take for a week, but the problem just seemed to get worse. At the time I remember thinking, “you know what, this seems a bit odd, this doesn’t feel like IBS”, so I decided to Google my symptoms. I saw that a few different options came up – including ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer – but I didn’t really think it would be either of those things. Even so, I went back to the doctor and told him about the symptoms I’d googled and what I thought, so he sent me to have some blood tests.

I had the blood test on the Tuesday and on Thursday that same week the doctor called me back in and said that – pending the results of a scan – the blood tests revealed that it was a possibility that I could have ovarian cancer. He managed to get me a scan appointment for the Saturday morning.

But, over the weekend I started to feel really unwell, an emergency Doctor told me it sounded like a kidney infection, despite me telling him what my GP had said only a couple of days earlier he sent me home with a prescription! But I started being sick and just felt really, really poorly. By the early hours of Monday morning I was admitted to hospital. On Tuesday morning –just over a week after I’d gone to see my GP - the consultant came in and told me that I definitely had ovarian cancer.

How to explain?

I think that because there had been a build-up and I was so ill over the weekend, I was sort of expecting it. My main worry was now about telling my family, the worst thing of all was having to tell them and then to tell them a few weeks later that it’s at an advanced stage.

I’ve only told a handful of people what that really means and as time goes on I share more information with them, but I don’t want to scare them, it’s the thought of them thinking I’m dying that fills me with absolute dread and such terrible sadness.

I speak to my husband about it a lot and he’s really supportive. We talk a lot about the future but we’ve not decided anything, I’m not even sure what it is we’re supposed to be deciding, but as long as we just keep talking I’m sure we’ll work it out!

Preparing for the future

After my diagnosis in April 2014 I had three rounds of Carboplatin and Taxol, followed by de-bulking surgery and another three rounds of chemo. I finished this cycle of treatment in September 2014 and went straight on to Avastin which is a type of maintenance treatment (to keep the cancer away for as long as possible), this finished in September 2015. In summer 2016 I had a recurrence and am currently undergoing another round of chemotherapy.

I went through a bit of an odd phase at the beginning where I started to prepare stuff and make memory boxes for people, my Macmillan nurse told me this was normal and I should deal with it in my own way.  I’ve not done that for a few months now. Instead I’ve started to make plans for the future. I’ve decided that cancer isn’t going to take over my life – it’s going to fit in with what I want to do.

I think it’s important to keep busy. I can tell when I start thinking about it too much because I get this feeling of sadness come over me. If I want a little cry I have a little cry – it usually lasts a few minutes.  My husband will say to me ‘are you having a moment?’ and I’ll say ‘yeah, I’m having a moment,’ and he’ll give me a little cuddle. Since my treatment ended I’ve had couple of emotional breakdowns, it helped to get it out of my system, since then it’s been the odd few tears. I try to remain as positive as I can and I find it helps to have a strong positive mental attitude.

Awareness and fundraising

Although I was an optimistic person before I think having cancer has made me even more so. It’s also given me the opportunity to do a lot of fundraising – raffles, barbeques - that kind of thing. Between me, my family and my friends we’ve raised hundreds if not thousands of pounds for ovarian cancer charities.

Before I got sick I didn’t really know much about ovarian cancer. It never even occurred to me that I might have it.

My biggest disappointment throughout this whole process is the lack of awareness of ovarian cancer.  It has to be the same priority as other cancers – especially breast cancer. Breast cancer has such a high profile and so I’ve always been very aware of self-checking. I’ve passed that on to my daughter and in the past my friends and I used to talk about it – as women that’s just what you do – it’s important. I was always really, really aware of what to look out for. We also talked about going for regular smear tests to check for cervical cancer, again this is something that women talk about – but never about ovarian cancer, until now that is,  it might be too late for me but it doesn’t have to be for thousands of other women. There should be more out there about ovarian cancer, the profile needs raising.

The more women that know about the symptoms, the more likely they are to go and get checked. If nothing else, I just want to encourage other women to be brave enough to say to their doctor “I know this sounds daft, but can you just check this out for me?”