Alexandra shares her experiences of receiving an ovarian cancer and breast cancer diagnosis and explains why her support network made all the difference in her recovery...
Having a solid support system is so important. When I was diagnosed with ovarian and breast cancer my family, amazing mum, and my neighbours – who I labelled ‘The Army’ – all rallied around to offer their help. People popped in for visits, cooked meals, looked after the kids, and even volunteered to give me lifts back and forth to the hospital. It made such a huge difference to my recovery and my mental health.
Before all of that though, I started noticing something was wrong with me. But I couldn’t put my finger on what. I remember feeling tired, but I’d always had an underactive thyroid and fatigue wasn’t all that unusual for me. I was also home-schooling my 7-year-old, Rose, and my 10-year-old, Thomas, due to the pandemic, so it was easy to assume it was that.
After the fatigue came bloating, and then pain in my lower abdomen that kept coming and going. At this point I thought maybe I had appendicitis. I had an e-consultation with the GP and I was concerned enough to ask for a face-to-face consultation. Luckily my doctor was amazing. He said he wanted to do a CA125 blood test for his own ‘peace of mind’. If not for him, I might have been diagnosed far later than I was.
When my CA125 results came back raised things moved quickly and I saw a gynaecologist within a few days. After an ultrasound, CT and MRI scan I was eventually diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer.
I underwent a seven-hour surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible. It was hugely important for me to feel confident in my healthcare team and the people who were treating me. My consultant was so positive and supportive that I ended up nicknaming him ‘Mr Yes’. Five weeks after surgery I began chemo.
I was offered genetic testing which found I didn’t have a BRCA mutation, but that my tumour was positive for homologous recombination deficiency (HDR).
With so much support I was able to recover well. My husband and sister were especially amazing and looked after me well. Just having help doing the most basic things allowed me to focus on getting well and kept me mentally strong. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having a good support system. I’m now in my fifth cycle of chemo and taking bevacizumab (Avastin®).
Not long after my ovarian cancer diagnosis I discovered I also had two different types of breast cancer. I was laying in bed one night and felt a pang of pain and noticed two small lumps in my breasts. Unlike ovarian cancer I knew the signs for breast cancer and regularly checked my breasts, so although the second diagnosis was a blow, it was at least caught early. I will soon undergo a double mastectomy and I’m hoping that my treatment will be finished after that.
Getting the word out
Having had both a breast and ovarian cancer diagnosis I know that the symptoms of ovarian cancer aren’t nearly as well known. I’d always heard about the importance of checking my breasts regularly – whereas I had no idea that bloating or abdominal pain were signs of ovarian cancer. Had I known I would have seen a doctor sooner and might have been diagnosed at an earlier stage. That’s why I want to get the word out. Now I want to focus on building awareness for the symptoms of ovarian cancer and spending time with my friends and family. They make sure nothing stops me from trying to live and do the things that make me happy.
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