I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009 after I experienced symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – irregular bleeding and some pain on one side of my abdomen.
I was devastated for a number of reasons: that I had cancer; that I had not been more assertive with my doctors; and that I had put my head in the sand when I knew that something was wrong. I felt fear about leaving my family and how my children would manage. I grieved for my future, and for all the things that I subconsciously had hoped would happen.
Chemo, hair-loss and limited time
I had chemotherapy and then returned to work part-time. It was difficult returning to work as my exit had been sudden and dramatic. When I returned people viewed me differently – visually I was thinner, with the beginnings of hair regrowth, and people were shy of me. Roles I’d had were distributed to others for practical reasons, but I felt as if I had been sidelined and often returned home in tears.
In November of 2010 my cancer returned. My oncologists suggested I had three-and-a-half years to live. I retired from work and cashed in my pension. I had an amazing new oncologist who knew about all the latest research, and I had faith she was going to do her best for me.
I did the chemo again and started taking a trial drug. I took my sons to Sri Lanka, took my daughter to New York and had an amazing time, took an art course… and then found I was still OK, after two years, three years, and now four. The trial drug I am taking is still working well for me and holding the cancer back.
My advice to others
My advice to women in my position is to make sure you find an oncologist you have faith in. I also went to a centre for three days where they showed me how to support my body through diet and alternative therapies. I realised I needed to remove myself from my family and friends and let go of the brave front.
It was an intense experience and allowed me to work out what was going on with me emotionally. It is worth sorting out a good, workable diet, and exercise is really helpful. Whatever works for you – yoga, walking – keeping your body strong will help with your general feeling of wellbeing. Also, make sure you get a BRCA (genetic) test so that you can help other members of your family be aware if they need to be screened.
People often tell you that having a positive attitude helps, but in the end you can only do your best in what is a tough situation. Be honest with people about how you feel. Allow them in. I often felt very afraid of dying.
Be forgiving of people who don’t know what to say and resort to strange platitudes. Sometimes it helps to meet others in the same situation just so you can laugh about these things without hurting anyone’s feelings.
For more information on ovarian cancer visit Ovarian Cancer Action.