When Tina was suddenly diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she racked her brain to see if there had been something she had missed. Despite her doctors asking her again and again, she knew there really had been nothing obvious. Here Tina talks about her frustration, the effect on her family, and why she’s taking it one day at a time...
In my generation, the thought process had always been ‘cancer: everybody dies’. Having my faith helped a lot, but praying for something other than cancer just didn’t seem appropriate. I already knew deep down that it was cancer, so instead I prayed that it be something I could fight.
Out of Nowhere
I was 52 years old and probably fitter than most women my age. I was a serving police officer and had to regularly complete the fitness test and officer safety training, which included self-defence.
Then, one Sunday morning at church with my mother, my stomach just started to visibly swell. Initially, I suggested to my mother that this would be something to do with the menopause, however the swelling continued, and by Tuesday morning my stomach was so swollen I couldn’t get my police trousers on.
I had always taken the view that if there’s something wrong, tell your doctor - no matter how embarrassing. I had had an aunt who had let a small lump on her breast grow to the point that it was untreatable, all because she was too embarrassed to show it to the doctor. I swore that I would never let embarrassment kill me! With that in mind, I decided to phone in sick at work and make an appointment to see my GP.
Within minutes of being in the doctor’s surgery, I was told that I was displaying a ‘classic symptom’ of ovarian cancer. My doctor ordered blood tests immediately and asked me to return on Friday for the results.
I returned on Friday for the appointment and was subjected to a variety of tests and scans. The worst part, aside from the not knowing what was wrong with me, were the questions.
I was asked again and again what other symptoms I had experienced. There seemed to be total disbelief that there had been none. I had already racked my own brains but there had been nothing. Until my stomach had begun to swell there had been nothing.
I had had no pain, I had been eating and drinking normally and all my bodily functions had been normal. Eventually, after several days in hospital, I was told that I had stage III, ovarian cancer.
The good news was that the cancer was confined to my reproductive system, and three months of chemotherapy successfully shrank the tumours. I still wonder how I could have had something like that inside me and not known. Following chemotherapy I then had a total hysterectomy followed by another three months of chemo. Even with chemo and its side effects, the most challenging thing I have had to face has been having my stomach drained, which is a process I have gone through three times now.
Following treatment, I started to see how cancer had affected my family. When I was first told that I needed chemotherapy, I had been informed that I needed to ‘be well enough’ to receive the treatment, and I was not allowed to have any infections or colds. My children were told to keep away from me if they had minor sniffles or stomach upsets. My eldest daughter took it very seriously. She became fanatical about washing her hands and began to avoid high risk foods such as eggs and tuna. She began losing weight and started to find that it was difficult for her to trust foods when she ate out. In the end she had to seek help from the Children’s Mental Health Team. They supported her well, and she worked hard to deal with the problem, but it took her many months and there are still certain things that she will not eat.
Things appeared to be going well until I began suffering from a back ache. Two weeks later I found a lump on my stomach. I returned to my surgery and to the doctor who had originally acted so promptly to get me treated. After running a series of tests, she rang me up and told me that I had cancer again. It turned out that it was on my peritoneum. She told me that this peritoneal cancer was inoperable and incurable, and although chemotherapy would shrink it, it would come back. I would be on treatment for the remainder of my life, or for as long as my body would respond.
I am now approaching the end of my current treatment cycle and, according the mid-term scan, it has proved successful! The possibility of maintenance treatment has not yet been discussed. Previously I was on Letrozole, which unfortunately did not work for me.
Being as ill as I’ve been means I’ve entered into a very close relationship with my mortality. My husband is like my rock. I also have a group of friends who are in a similar situation. We keep each other positive. You can only take one day at a time.
Find out more
- Learn about the symptoms of ovarian cancer
- Fundraise so we can train more GPs to be aware of ovarian cancer
- Find out more about Clinical Trials in the UK