Every year 1,000 women under the age of 50 are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When Jo was diagnosed in her 30s, she had no idea what to expect. Here she talks motherhood, menopause and why you’re never too young to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer…
I didn't think women in their 30s got ovarian cancer. I certainly never thought it would happen to me.
Although I’d been having sharp pains in my lower abdomen, I just put it down to a history of ovarian cysts. But after two weeks the pain had become unbearable, and I couldn’t get out of bed. My partner called an ambulance for me, and I was admitted to hospital with severe abdominal pain.
A scan revealed a large ovarian cyst, and I was told I needed an operation to remove it. A few weeks later I went back to the hospital, only to be told by the consultant that, “it's not cancer – but it's also not not cancer”. I didn't understand this. He told me everything would be sent to a specialist team to analyse. Six days later, I was called back to the hospital by another consultant. She asked me what had been happening and I explained everything. At that point she said, ‘oh, it is cancer’. She was very matter of fact about it.
I'd gone to the appointment on my own and I was in total shock; I think I cried. The consultant told me the cancer was stage I and that a radical hysterectomy would probably be best. I already had two small children, but my partner and I had been trying for another baby. Unfortunately, the doctor said she didn’t advise waiting for surgery, and I was sent away to let the news sink in.
Thankfully I didn’t need any further treatment, but after surgery I was left with an awful scar and a tummy I couldn’t shift.
My surgeon was great at his job but after I’d had the operation I just felt alone. My GP was a bit more understanding, but I had to do a lot of my own research. Nobody really sat me down and told me about what the surgical menopause would be like. Waking up to intense hot flushes was quite surreal and scary. I felt really low, and I'm not enjoying surgical menopause at all.
I’m sure it will hit me eventually, but I don’t think I’ve really come to terms with it yet. I just try to focus on staying sane for the sake of my two children. I have a boy and a girl and they are my world. They’ve helped me stay focused throughout all this.
Because I was struggling with how I was feeling, a friend recommended I attend a Being Together Day. My body was in shock and I didn't know if I was coming or going. I didn't know anybody else that had been through the menopause in their 30s, and none of my friends could understand – as much as they tried. I just felt really isolated. Being Together Sheffield helped me so much. It was fantastic to be around other women who understood what I was going through.
Before my diagnosis, ovarian cancer never really came up in conversation. I certainly didn't know the signs. A lot of women I've since spoken to don't have any idea about the symptoms either, so I want to spread the word as much as I can. I'm just grateful the pain was there, otherwise I wouldn't have known and it could have been a lot worse.