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“Suddenly the reality wasn’t about my fertility but about my life”

Sarah was going through the first round of IVF when she discovered she had ovarian cancer…

I’d gone for IVF treatment and they'd found what was thought to be a dermoid cyst. My GP was really ahead of the curve and ordered tests – I had the CA125 blood test, but it was fine. I pushed for the cyst to be removed and paid privately to have the operation. The operation proved more complex than expected, the capsule ruptured and when tested they found borderline cells inside.

At that point I was more concerned about the impact on my fertility than worrying about the possibilities of cancer. The oncology team retested and found invasive cells. It happened so quickly and was such a whirlwind, it was as if everything turned upside down – suddenly the reality we were facing wasn’t about my fertility but about my life! 

Because I was 40 it was difficult, if I had been younger they would have automatically looked at fertility saving surgery - my surgical team were happy to consider this though the reality was that the chemo that I needed would be likely to stop my remaining ovary from working. There was so much to weigh up in terms of surgical options, fertility and the consequences of the treatments and decisions were enormous.

I realised the possibility of what might be happening before my partner. It felt very surreal when we were actually told the news that I had ovarian cancer. When you get caught up in the medical processes you just look one stage ahead, and deal with each step as you have to. It was a frightening situation, every time I met with a medical person and heard news the situation got worse and I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up. I had no awareness of any symptoms beforehand and I had believed that I was in good health so the idea that everything was going so wrong was shocking. It shook who I thought I was to the very core.

My partner and I found each other later in life than most of our friends found their great loves and we had been hoping to have a family, I was 38 when we started trying. We realised after a while that we'd need to do IVF, that this could be tough, and we’d still have to be really lucky to end up with a child. We were prepared for this and I feel like we didn’t even get a chance to try. The IVF scan that spotted the ‘cyst’ was the first scan of the process; we’d barely made it through the door.

Amanda and Sarah

I knew that the idea of having a baby in my late thirties or early forties was a long shot. I think it's only now, two and a half years post surgery, that dealing with the childlessness is starting to surface. Last year, I had to have a follow-up scan in the maternity department. I was surrounded by people having baby scans, pregnancy advice and their families and that was really traumatic. Childlessness happened so abruptly and the cycle of grief can manifest itself in so many ways – I might feel numb, angry or sad and I’ve experienced all these emotions and more, and I still have more to do to come to terms with it.

I’ve now made it to six monthly checks (two years post chemo) which is a fantastic feeling as the three monthly ones came round so quickly it was difficult to move forward, away from feeling like a permanent patient.

I know that I’m not invited in to see the team just for a nice chat but because there is an ongoing risk that something else might be wrong. So, it’s a balancing act getting on with life, but also acknowledging and containing the possibility that in the future there might be a problem. It does mean that, unlike those around me, I live my life in these six-monthly chunks.

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