When Claire began experiencing heavy bleeding and bloating after the birth of her first child, doctors repeatedly wrote her symptoms off as post-natal depression. It was only when she insisted on surgery that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Here she explains her frustration, the importance of knowing your body, and why - for her - bananas are a symbol of hope...
I wanted to scream from the rooftops, “I have been telling you this for years, why didn’t you listen?”. The word ‘cancer’ is such a huge thing. After the initial diagnosis, my whole world crashed around me; I didn’t know where to turn. That’s when I found Target Ovarian Cancer.
Is anyone listening?
Something changed after the birth of my daughter. At the time I was told it was post-natal depression - just part of me getting used to being a new mum.
Soon afterwards I started collapsing and my periods stopped. Once again I was told that my body had changed and I was probably just depressed. Looking back, I had all the symptoms of ovarian cancer – the bloated tummy, needing to wee more, etc - but it was all just passed off as part of my pregnancy and post-pregnancy.
Gradually, my periods became heavier, and I was using maxi size incontinence pads every hour. At one point I was visiting my A&E department every 2-3 weeks for around 18 months.
Finally I was referred to gynaecology and diagnosed with a tumour. But because my CA125 had come back normal, they said it was just a cyst and I wouldn’t need it removed. I tried to explain the heaviness of my periods but they didn’t understand. My husband had to step in to ask for the operation to remove the mass. They said they would do the operation, but they were sure it wasn’t cancer.
Although they had initially planned to do keyhole surgery, on the day of the operation they changed their mind and went in surgically.
They ended up removing three tumours - all very large. We referred to the biggest tumour as ‘gerald’. Gerald was 10cm x 6cm and had two smaller 'brothers'.
After the operation I heard nothing for about a month. Eventually I got a letter for an appointment at the hospital. I went along on my own thinking it would just be a follow up. When the nurse asked me if I was on my own, and told me I would need someone with me, I knew it was cancer.
The consultant explained that my tumour was ‘self-contained’. Twelve weeks later I had a hysterectomy.
Initially, you go through every emotion under the sun. I was also so overwhelmed with information. One day I was out walking with my husband, and I was thinking about my daughter living her life without me. Suddenly, the image of a banana popped into my head. It sounds strange, but I can honestly say that it stopped me from crying that day. After that, bananas became kind of a symbol of hope for me and my family. They were a reminder to us that no matter what you go through, there’s always a ray of light.
I’ve become a total crafter since my diagnosis. I’d been so ill for so long that when I got better I didn’t know what to do with the energy! My husband built me a craft room and now I make dragon eggs, wands, crystals - lots of magical things. I want to give my daughter the gift of imagination - making these things is one of the ways I do that.
When I got to the all-clear, we threw a Christmas party to celebrate – in September! I decorated the entire house and left it up for the rest of the year. I want my daughter to look back and remember that as the year her mum was crazy enough to celebrate Christmas for 4 months, rather than the year mummy was ill.
I want people to know that the CA125 test can be indicative of ovarian cancer – but not always. It wasn’t elevated in me. I also want women to know that, just because the person in front of you has a doctorate of medicine, it doesn’t mean they know more about your body than you do. If you know something is wrong, go back and question things. You know your body better than any doctor.