At 37 years old, Esther didn’t think ovarian cancer was something she had to worry about…
Looking back, I didn’t really have all that many symptoms. I’d been to my GP’s surgery on a number of occasions because I was feeling very tired, but they just kept giving me iron tablets. I also did have a swollen tummy at some points, but because I had endometriosis, I probably attributed some of the symptoms to that. Eventually I had my blood tested and found out that I was very anaemic. I was then sent for some tests to rule out the possibility of an internal bleed.
By the time they found the tumour it had actually gone in to my bowel. It was protruding and that was what was causing me to be anaemic. That’s how I got my diagnosis. I was 37 years old at the time. You don’t think anything like that is going to happen at that age. I thought maybe I had an ulcer or a polyp or something.
I wouldn’t have even dreamed that it could be ovarian cancer. It was obviously bad that it had gone into my bowel, but in a way, it was also good. The tumour in the bowel had caused the anaemia, and it was because of the anaemia that they actually sent me for the tests. When they did the colonoscopy they told me that they’d found something in my bowel. The actual tumour on my ovaries wasn't discovered until my surgery. My diagnosis was on the 12th of the 12th 2012. I started my treatment at The Christie Hospital in January 2013.
A horrendous shock
The diagnosis was a horrendous shock. It’s a sort of test on your character. Your outlook on life changes quite a bit after something like that. I’m very positive and I just thought ‘it’s an illness and you can get through this’. My next thought was ‘what can I do to get it right? Is it treatable? Am I going to be able to get better?’ Don’t get me wrong, I did have my dark days. There were times when I thought ‘why me? I’ve not done anything wrong. This isn’t fair’.
I sort of thought that the first stage was to just get the chemo out of the way and see how I react. I’ve got fabulous support – friends, family, work colleagues, and I think that’s what gets you through. The support is the main thing – you can cope with anything if you’ve got a good support network around you.
I had seven sessions of chemotherapy but after the five sessions I had to have an operation to remove the tumour from my bowel and have a full hysterectomy. They also removed my omentum. I then had two ‘mopping up’ chemo sessions six weeks after that. I got my clinical remission in the October of 2013. It was a bit of trauma but I’m fit and healthy now.
When I did have my dark days my partner would take me out in the car and we’d go and get a cup of tea from somewhere. Just getting out of the house made me feel so much better. With the hair loss I just thought ‘you know what, I can get a wig or have a funky headscarf.’ My partner and I looked like two peas in a pod because he’s got no hair! We’d been trying to have children since I was 30 and the tumour was probably the reason it wasn’t happening. Unfortunately, I can’t have kids now. My other-half was fabulous though, he said to me “I’d much rather have you!” My family were also pretty great.
As normal as possible
I remember that I just wanted things to be as normal as possible. When someone phoned me I didn’t want every conversation to be about cancer. I wanted to hear what was going on at work! I used to ring up all the time and say ‘what’s going on? What’s happening? What’s the gossip?’ If I wanted to talk about it then I would. I actually came to work during my chemo sessions. It was definitely nice to keep a bit of normality. It was nice to do normal stuff like have a cup of tea and catch up with everyone.
I’ll hold my hands up and say that I had no idea of the symptoms of ovarian cancer until I got diagnosed. At a young age you don’t really think of it. You just wouldn’t put all your symptoms together and think ‘I have cancer’. You probably just think of ovarian cancer as an ‘old lady’ disease. The symptoms of breast cancer and cervical cancer are so well documented but ovarian cancer isn’t. I do think it’s come on leaps and bounds over the last few years. That’s one of the reasons I went on BBC Breakfast for Target Ovarian Cancer. Everyone I knew saw it and I had so many people saying to me ‘Oh, I had no idea they were the symptoms!’ I’ve always said that if I can get just one person to listen to me…
I also did some fundraising for Christie Hospital and for The Willow Foundation. When I was going through my treatment the Macmillan nurse referred me to The Willow Foundation and they sent me and my partner David to Scotland for a week That’s why I decided to do a bake sale to try and raise some money for them. I’ve also been happy to do media stuff for Target Ovarian Cancer. The first one I did was for BBC Breakfast news. The BBC rang me up and asked me if they could come round my house and film me. I was hoovering round going, ‘quick, they’ll be here in a minute with the camera crew!’
It was great to get that awareness out there. I think the Target Ovarian Cancer website does a sterling job but I don’t think the message is out there as much as it could be. It can happen to younger people and it’s not just post-menopausal women. Fertility is a big thing for younger women. It’s hard enough to deal with the diagnosis, without having to deal with that on top of everything else. The 'younger women’s guide' is a really good idea – it’s great!
Little things don’t matter as much
I think my diagnosis has changed me in the sense that the little things don’t matter as much. Sometimes I used to think ‘I’ve got to get home from work and do all that ironing…I’ve got to do this and that.’ Now I just think ‘it doesn’t really matter – it’s not really that important’. In the great scheme of things it’s not really a necessity. I think I just go out and do stuff now. You just change your outlook really. I always think to myself that I am lucky, I survived and I am living my life. There’s a lot of people out there who aren’t as lucky. You just take each opportunity that comes your way and try and enjoy your life.
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