Being a sexagenarian had never stopped Jan from doing anything. At 62 years old, she could often be found showing off her skills on the ski slopes. So when she started to feel tired and bloated she knew immediately that something wasn’t quite right…
I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but I’ve always considered myself to be young at heart. Despite being in my 60s, I was active, had lots of friends and even enjoyed the occasional ski trip. So when I started feeling bloated in March 2010, I immediately made an appointment to see my GP. When an ultrasound failed to show anything wrong, I assumed that was that.
However, by October 2010, I began to notice a large build-up of fluid in my abdomen. Concerned, I made another appointment to see my GP and was again sent for scan – this time a CT. A few hours after the appointment, my doctor rang me to tell me that results showed a 14cm mass on my ovary. I knew instantly that this was very bad news. I underwent a biopsy to confirm the worst and then paracentesis to remove a lot of the fluid. I was 62 years old and had early stage 3 ovarian cancer. At the time of my diagnosis, my CA125 was just over 2000.
I had just retired but I think it fair to say that I would have found it pretty impossible to carry on working during treatment. Initially, I had three cycles of chemotherapy (Carboplatin & Paclitaxel), a full hysterectomy and another three cycles of chemotherapy. I then had regular scans and blood tests until 2014. Despite feeling well, my CA125 was climbing steadily and doctors decided I needed further treatment. From November 2014 I had a further six cycles of chemotherapy (Carboplatin & Paclitaxel & Avastin). I’m currently continuing with the Avastin, but that’s set to be reviewed in October of this year.
I just remember being devastated by the news, and I spent days crying. I also rushed to the internet for any information I could find (for the record, not a good idea!).
My husband was a rock throughout. We had a few long talks and agreed that the only way to cope was to be totally honest and open with each other about fears and feelings. I had no children, so I escaped the nightmare of having to break the news to them. Although I am close to my brothers and their families, we decided not to tell close family until we knew what was going to happen. They were all very supportive.
Unfortunately, our dog (a gorgeous mutt whom we’d had for 16 years) died soon after my first chemo session. Although I thought my husband would die of grief, looking back, it was actually a good opportunity for him to express his worry over me. It’s like it gave him permission to cry - as I had been doing for weeks!
I think I particularly struggled with the psychological and practical aspects of my diagnosis. Psychologically it was tough taking on board that, despite the statistics, ovarian cancer is not necessarily a death sentence.
Practically, I hated having to wade through appointments with one NHS Trust in order to be treated by another NHS Trust. I live within the remit of one Trust but another close by is nationally renowned for cancer treatment. For obvious reasons I wanted to be treated at the latter. It wasn’t a huge problem, but protocols meant I had to go through some hoops to be referred.
If I’m being honest I think my diagnosis has aged me. I was always a ‘young 60’, but with the recurrence I feel old and tired. This wasn’t helped by not being able to start my new treatment in time to avoid jaundice and an emergency liver stent. Although, thinking again about this question, I might have aged anyway!
On the flipside, there’s nothing like the threat of a terminal illness to make you get on and visit the places you’ve always planned to go. Let’s just say our bank of frequent flyer miles is looking very healthy indeed! Nowadays, I enjoy travelling, going to comedy gigs and the cinema, reading and eating out – all the usual social stuff. I’m a committee member, fundraiser and home visitor for the local RSPCA. I also do water aerobics and water Zumba a few times a week with friends. I’ve even run the Race for Life a few times!
Raising awareness for ovarian cancer is so important. It’s a killer if not detected early enough.
All publicity helps the cause. When you mention your cancer everyone assumes you must mean breast cancer. Whilst I have nothing but admiration for my pink ribbon sisters, we ovarian cancer ladies can sometimes feel a little invisible!
Find out more:
- Find out about how you can raise awareness of ovarian cancer
- Read more stories from women with ovarian cancer
- Share your story with us