When a doctor casually mentioned that she might have cancer, Tracey struggled to deal with the shock. Here she talks about family denial, dealing with her anger and how she’s come to quietly accept her diagnosis...
When the doctor said “maybe it’s cancer”, he said it in such an off-the-cuff way. I just remember being in shock; the whole room started spinning.
I was working as a primary school teacher and also doing some private tutoring. I was very busy, so I didn’t notice any ovarian cancer symptoms. I’d had issues with my bowel in the past - so when I started having pain during intercourse, I just assumed it was that.
Even so, I thought I’d better go and have my GP check it out. I was given an abdominal exam and then sent to reception with a note for an urgent ultrasound. A week and a half after the ultrasound I had a meeting with the gynae surgeon at my local hospital. He explained that they thought I had a cyst, and sent me for a CT scan to confirm.
Waiting for the results I still wasn’t thinking about cancer. It was only when I went along for an appointment that the doctor mentioned the possibility. He said it could be ovarian or primary peritoneal cancer, and when I asked what that was, he wrote it on the corner of a book and told me to “Google it”. I remember going home, looking on the internet and feeling like the whole room was spinning. I could feel my heart crashing through my ears. I thought I was going to die.
After the diagnosis I was referred to the oncology team. They explained that there was a lot of disease in the peritoneum - which I would need chemo to shrink. I had just begun treatment when they found a tumour on the peritoneum next to my liver. I had to go to hospital for surgery before I could continue with my chemotherapy.
The treatment itself was fine – no sickness, but I did have ulcers on my throat, which were painful. I also lost my hair.
I had been taking Avastin, but just before my last dose my CA125 started to rise. A few months later a CT scan revealed areas of cancer back in the peritoneum. I started to feel unwell. I had ascites, bloating and I was in pain. I started taking weekly Taxol, but when that didn’t work I referred myself to another hospital. I think the staff there saved my life. They started me on a new drug protocol, and although I now have a permanent drain, I’m doing really well on the new regimen.
Knowledge is power
Since my diagnosis I’ve had some great help, although I would have liked a bit more emotional support. I’ve found a lot of comfort in support groups. It’s great to speak to other people who have a diagnosis and hear them talk about their experiences. After all, knowledge is power.
I do worry about my daughter though - she wears her heart on her sleeve. But then, I worry about my son because he can’t talk about it. My family tell me I need to be positive and they don’t want to hear about the fact that my ovarian cancer is incurable. Fortunately I have friends that I can talk to about it more openly.
I think I’ve reached the point of ‘quiet acceptance’ about my diagnosis. I know that ovarian cancer can be difficult to treat, so when it came back I felt almost relieved. It was back so I wasn’t worrying and waiting for it anymore.
I was 53 at diagnosis – I’m young. I’ve never smoked, never overeaten, always exercised. That sometimes makes me angry and means things can be difficult to accept. Maybe that’s why I didn’t panic at the beginning, because I believed it wasn’t going to be me.
Since my diagnosis I’ve been a big fundraiser. My daughter has raised about £5,000 and I’ve raised £2,000. We wanted to raise money and help get the symptoms out there.
Raising awareness is really important to me. I was clueless about ovarian cancer. I knew all about breast cancer (I regularly checked my breasts) and cervical cancer (I had regular smears) but I knew nothing about ovarian cancer. I’ve been around; I’m smart, well educated, but I just had no idea. Now I feel naïve and a bit silly for not knowing more. Every woman should know about the symptoms of the gynaecological cancers.
- Find out ways you can fundraise like Tracey
- Promote symptoms awareness this Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month