At 21, ovarian cancer was the last thing on Lisa’s mind. Then she suddenly found out that she had a tumour. “They told me it was ovarian cancer and it flipped my whole world upside down.”
At 21, ovarian cancer was the last thing on mind. I was pursuing my dreams and I was living in Hawaii. Then all of a sudden I found out I had ovarian cancer.
I didn’t realise it was something that could happen to me. The last thing on my mind was that I could ever get sick. When they told me it was ovarian cancer it flipped my whole world upside down. It's changed me as a person 100 per cent, especially as a young person because you don’t see it coming it's a big shock. The doctors gave me the news during an appointment with my mum... She was my rock. As soon as the doctor said “its cancer”, I didn’t hear anything else. He told me everything in one go and I didn’t absorb anything about what he was saying, my mum was asking the questions. I didn’t think it was possible that it was cancer, it was such a shock.
From diagnosis to surgery in three days
I was diagnosed really quickly. My doctor in Hawaii sent me for a scan, at which they found a growth on my ovary. I was sent to the only gynae consultant on the island. They operated to remove the growth three days later, but it burst during surgery so they weren’t able to get all the tissue (they didn’t tell me this at the time). The surgery was complicated and I lost a lot of blood – it was a difficult time for me, and I was 21 at the time so wasn’t empowered to ask questions. I had follow ups for a few months, then went home to Saskatoon in Canada after I finished my semester of study abroad a few months later.
A familiar feeling
Once I was home, I couldn’t believe it – I started having some of the symptoms I’d been experiencing again. I found it hard to sit down – I remember being at a family gathering, sitting on the sofa, and I could feel the pressure of the seat through my body and into my tummy. It was very uncomfortable. So I went straight to the doctor and got all of my medical records sent through. That was when I found out that the operation in Hawaii hadn’t gone well, and they hadn’t removed all of the tumour. I was livid – no one had mentioned this when I was recovering. I had a scan two days later, which confirmed that the tumour had grown back again. Within two days I had a consultation with a gynaecologist and surgery two weeks later. This time it went much better and was successful.
Across the pond
Six months later I moved to the UK to train to be a physiotherapist. I’ve had unbelievably good care here – I was able to get follow up appointments everywhere I lived – first in Newcastle, then all over London. I’ve been in east London now for three years. Follow up appointments aren’t a small thing to deal with. Every time I see my gynae-oncologist, I take a day off work. The emotional toll is huge.
No one in my family knew how to deal with it, we didn’t realise it was something that would have any kind of psychological impact, just the physical illness. We all thought after the operation everything would be fine. But if you have something going on, the worst thing you can do is not talk about it. During the first treatment I didn’t tell nearly enough people, or seek enough support from my loved ones.
I was offered psychological help in the NHS when I came to the UK, but I couldn't bring myself to go. In hindsight I wish I had gone but I just couldn’t make myself vulnerable about my illness again, at least that’s how I viewed it.
There's still such a stigma around counselling where I’m from – I thought I was a strong person, I thought I could get through it. I also thought, “I’m almost a year down the line”, I thought I had already made so much progress on my own that I just didn’t feel the need to go, but I wish that I had.
Being a younger woman
I hope people understand what services are available to them.
I found that when I was first diagnosed, there was really nothing for me, for younger women. My consultants had never seen ovarian cancer in someone so young before and didn't really believe it themselves. That really instilled a bit of doubt into me. It made me feel like I was just this anomaly and there wasn't a lot of support for me.
It wasn't until I actually came to London and I found Target Ovarian Cancer that I actually felt like there were resources out there to help me. Having that information and support at your fingertips is huge, and everyone who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer should have it.
To the future
It’s been five years since my second, successful operation. Now I have follow ups just once each year.
These days I go a week without thinking about what happened. I go most days without even thinking about the word cancer at all anymore, which is great because it used to really get me down. I’ve come to a point in my recovery where I don’t want to think about it right now and that's okay.
I’m supporting the campaign to make sure every woman who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer has access to amazing care and support. Target Ovarian Cancer’s work in this area and the support they offer women is second to none.
Lisa is one of the the models in our campaign It's time to TAKE OVAR. She spoke to us backstage at the photoshoot this summer, watch her video.
Join the campaign and together we can make sure women in the UK have the best chances of survival.
Find out more:
- Download or order 'The younger woman's guide to ovarian cancer'
- Read our information and advice for younger women
- Lisa told her story in Reproductive and Gynaecological Health in the Guardian for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month 2018. Click below to find out more