Ovarian cancer can affect women of all ages – just ask Sinead. Diagnosed at 21 years old, she talks about raising awareness, the difficulty in finding someone her own age to talk to, and her hopes of starting a family one day…
I had just turned 21 when I was diagnosed. At the time everyone thought I was pregnant. They gave me three pregnancy tests because they were so sure, but I knew my own body.
I’d been feeling bloated for a couple of months, but I thought it was due to my period, so I ignored it. I also felt like I needed to pee every few minutes. Eventually, my tummy just started getting bigger and bigger, so my mum and dad took me to A&E. By this time I looked pregnant. We were told it was an infection and I was put on antibiotics and transferred to the gynaecology ward of a nearby hospital. I had no idea why.
After more tests the consultant came and explained that they thought it could be ovarian cancer. I had a scan and it showed irregularities on my ovaries. I had 4.5 litres of fluid drained initially, and then another 10 litres drained during my biopsy.
A couple of days after the biopsy, I was released from hospital and two weeks later I got a phone call to say that I had borderline ovarian cancer.
Bits and pieces
I’d heard of ovarian cancer – bits and pieces – but only really in older women. I was the youngest person in the ward and it was hard to find someone there I could relate to.
After surgery, the doctors were confident they had removed all traces of the disease, but they were unable to save any part of my ovaries. I went straight into surgical menopause – dealing with mood swings and hot flushes. It was very uncomfortable and it was a hot summer, so we had to buy a big fan.
Dealing with the effects of my surgery was tough. When I was in hospital I found it really difficult to think about other people having what I have when they’re as young as me. It was hard to accept that I’d lost my fertility, and I didn’t have anyone my age to talk to about it. All the women around me in the hospital were a lot older than me and had kids already.
However, I’m starting to get back to my old self, and finding hope again. The doctors were able to leave my womb intact, so I have hope for the future and being able to have children. I’ve also become a young ambassador for CLIC Sergeant and I am going to go into schools to talk about ovarian cancer awareness in younger people.
I want to support people like me and help them see that they’re not alone.
After treatment I was given counselling sessions. There was also a Macmillan centre at the hospital who helped me get exercising after surgery. They took a group of young people to the gym together and it was great! I finally found people I could chat to about totally normal things like Netflix, what’s for dinner and nights out. Being able to speak to other people with ovarian cancer at the Target Ovarian Cancer Being Together event was also great. Sometimes it’s good to just be regular people sitting around and talking. We’re all in similar positions and it was really inspiring to hear other people’s stories.
When I was diagnosed, I thought I had no one else my age I could speak to. It’s really important for people to know that there are people and organisations out there that you can go to for more support.
People think it doesn’t happen to younger people – it’s an older person’s disease. I want to tell people that this can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone brush off your symptoms just because you’re young – you know your own body best.