I was initially diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August 2010. I was 36. I’d been feeling off-colour for a while – I thought I had developed an intolerance to food – but it wasn’t occurring all the time so I couldn’t pick up a pattern. I decided to see my GP anyway. She sent me off for a blood test and an ultrasound.
The next stop was a gynaecological oncologist, which was a shock. I had surgery about a week later.
When I woke up from surgery I was told the operation was successful but I would need to undergo chemotherapy. I don’t think I understood what this meant for a while. I think I was numb. It took a few days I think for it to finally sink in – I had stage IIIc ovarian cancer.
Stage IIIc is one of the more advanced and aggressive cancers and is most likely to recur within about two years of initial diagnosis.
My life has changed enormously since diagnosis. In a practical sense I used to work a lot. My job meant a lot to me. I enjoyed it. But at the end of 2011 I quit to take a year. I did lots of things I wanted to do including some travelling, getting fit and seeing friends. It was terrific.
But then my cancer came back at the end of that year off and I’ve been pretty much having treatment – surgery, radiation and chemotherapy – for the last year. I’ve managed to squeeze in more holidays and fun things though, so I think of it as semi-retirement, where treatment is now the “work” part.
My priorities have also changed. Family and friends were always first, but now they’re first by a long way. I guess I’m less materialistic. I’m more forgiving and I think more understanding. It’s hard not to be when you’ve asked yourself some serious questions. But I’m less tolerant of some things, like petty things – things which I once thought were important, but are actually quite meaningless.
These days I’m just getting on with it as best as I can.
To someone newly diagnosed I guess my advice would be more practical. Things like taking someone with you to appointments to write things down. You’re head will be swimming and you’ll forget what was said. Take a list of questions with you to appointments so you get all the answers. Otherwise you’re certain to be distracted and forget some of them.
There’s a lot of research going on for ovarian cancer and like all research it takes a long time to see a result, if there is one. I think it’s hard for patients to understand that and to understand how it works. Suddenly you’ve got a disease you’ve never even thought of before and you need to make really important decisions about it. There’s lots of clinical trials going on and it’s hard to find out about them; your doctor is never going to know about all of them. So I do think you really do need to be your own advocate – to look for them and decide if they are best for you. The Australian Cancer Trials website is really good – but you still need to talk to your doctor or to the trial staff to see if you are eligible. But I think we are lucky in Australia that our “standard” care is so good and also that trials might even be an option.
I’m also a big believer in helping researchers. The results might also help me or other patients – they might lead to better treatment or support. You never know. So I think it’s worth taking the small amount of time to help.
What would I ask of anyone who hears my story?
Err on the side of kindness. We could all do more. And we would all be better off.
But in a more practical sense, listen to your body. If something’s not right, see a doctor.