When Dee was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she was fortunate enough to be able to access Avastin, one of the handful of newer treatments available. Here she talks about research, the need for new therapies and the importance of hope…
New treatments are so important; they give you that extra hope, that extra chance. It’s so important that there are alternative methods and options for us.
‘Be honest with me…’
I’d never heard of ovarian cancer. That’s probably why, when I noticed I had a lump in my left-hand side, I didn’t think anything of it. If I’m honest with you, the lump was there for about eight months. I’d had a hysterectomy when I was 31 because of fibroids (they’d left my ovaries) so I just thought it was something to do with that. The lump in my stomach continued to feel harder but I just ignored it – I didn’t get it looked at.
Eventually, it began to give me a little bit of pain, and I started to feel really warm to touch. I went to my doctor and she felt my stomach and did a CA125 blood test. Within 24 hours she called and asked me to come into the surgery. My CA125 count was 500. I said to her ‘be honest with me, is it cancer?’ She told me she was pretty sure it was ovarian cancer. Things moved quickly from there.
A bit of hope
I had my operation. It was supposed to take about four hours, but it took seven. The doctor told me it was one of the hardest operations he'd had to do because of my hysterectomy scarring. Two weeks later I had an appointment at the hospital, and he confirmed it was stage IIIA ovarian cancer. I was then told I would have six rounds of chemotherapy and 18 sessions of Avastin.
New treatments that are becoming available – like Avastin – are so important. I firmly believe that there should be more investment in ovarian cancer and newer treatments. I was so disappointed to hear that the one option I had was major surgery followed by chemotherapy. Because Avastin is a newer more personalised therapy, it gave me a bit of hope. For me, the drug could help me avoid a recurrence – something that is common in ovarian cancer. I believe more drugs like this should be available for everybody. That’s part of the reason I wanted to get involved in the TAKE OVAR campaign. Women with ovarian cancer deserve better, and I want us all to have better access to treatments, more treatments to be available and to have better support.
When I first heard about Target Ovarian Cancer’s Being Together days, I was in two minds whether to attend. I thought it might bring up some horrible memories and wondered, ‘do I want to do this?’ Then I had a chat with myself and I was ready to do it. I found it was inspirational. It was great to get together with like-minded ladies, there were even people there that I had met when I was having chemo.
The workshops were all really good. The ‘health and wellbeing’ one had some really good exercises to calm you, and the ‘sex and relationship’ one was hilarious! They were passing around things to help ladies with (not just ovarian cancer) but all types of gynaecological cancers. It was fun. The Q&A section was also brilliant. There were two ladies who stood up and talked about their stories. It made everyone quite weepy. They were incredible!
Zest for life
I think raising awareness for ovarian cancer is so important – especially within black and minority ethnic communities.
The symptoms can be different for each person, and they can sometimes be written off as a less serious condition. I had a lump, but if that lump had maybe appeared somewhere else on my body, I may have done something about it sooner. When something is wrong on the outside, you can make a judgement – you can get some cream or go to the doctors. When something’s wrong on the inside, things are less clear-cut.
I would say listen to your body. Anything unusual – get it checked. Educate yourself, educate other people and if you can make a difference to one person by sharing your experience, that’s worth it. After going through all this, I’ve got a new zest for life. I consider myself very lucky.
Together we can make sure that ovarian cancer gets the attention it needs. It's time to .