When Janet began feeling tired all the time, she assumed it was just a frustrating part of the ageing process. It was only later that a blood test would reveal something far more serious...
I was 68 years old when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
At first I just assumed my symptoms were part of me getting older. I was going to the loo more often, falling asleep during the day, and I never really seemed to have any energy. I was also experiencing sharp pain in the right-hand side of my lower abdomen. The pain moved around so an exact site was difficult to identify, but it seemed to worsen whenever I had to walk any real distance.
I decided to make an appointment to speak to my GP and - over the next five months - I was examined by four different doctors. Every single one told me they could find nothing wrong. I even had physiotherapy thinking it might be a tendon or muscle injury. Eventually the pain moved to the lower abdomen, and the GP sent me for a blood test. When the results came back, my CA125 level was 2300 - the normal value is less than 35.
I was fast tracked and immediately underwent a series of tests. The speed at which this happened was incredible and within three weeks of my blood test, I was diagnosed with grade III serious ovarian cancer.
Although the result was shocking, it wasn’t all that surprising. Even so, it was still difficult to get used to the idea that I had cancer. I really struggled with telling other people and I felt very guilty about what my husband and family would have to go through to support me.
I was lucky enough to be offered a place on a clinical trial of bevacizumab, also known as Avastin(®). This was to be taken alongside carboplatin and paclitaxel once every three weeks. The treatment left me feeling weak and emotionally drained. I also had some unpleasant side effects - with aching muscles and peripheral neuropathy (numbness) in my toes. I was aware that this could become permanent. Despite each chemotherapy session lasting around six to seven hours, everyone in the day unit was cheerful. We were all treated to regular cups of tea with biscuits and sandwiches!
Even with the trial, I knew I still needed surgery. However, when I went to see the surgeon who was performing my operation, he told me I’d reacted so well to the therapy that no cancer could be seen on the CT scan. He explained that a debulking operation might not be of any benefit to me, but that it was my choice whether I wanted to go ahead with the surgery. It was a very difficult decision to make. In the end I decided to go ahead with the operation. I didn’t want the surgery but felt that if I didn’t go ahead there might be more chance of the cancer returning.
Fortunately, everything went well and the follow-up CT scan showed no discernible sign of cancer. I was really pleased.
Over the moon
I completed the traditional chemotherapy after a total of six sessions and then carried on with the bevacizumab every three weeks. At the last clinic meeting I was told that no cancer could be detected on the CT scan; I was over the moon. I don’t know for sure whether being on the clinical trial made a difference or not, but I certainly feel privileged to have had the chance of participating.
My toes have improved gradually and my energy levels are picking up. I’m slowly returning to my previous life. Following my treatment I attended the clinic every three months for a year. Now I attend every six months and my CA125 level is usually at a normal level. I cannot thank the oncology team at the hospital enough for their care and professionalism throughout my treatment - it was second to none.
Although I’m sure many women with ovarian cancer have similar experiences, I also know that every one of us has our own story - each with its individual twists and turns. I wanted to share my story because I felt my experience might help other women.