Diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 25, Allison struggled to come to terms with the delays she faced in diagnosis. She opens up about her experiences and explains why cancer has given her the confidence to face the unknown…
One thing I've learnt from my own experience is that you need to trust your body. My body was telling me that something was wrong. Notice things, and if something isn't right for you, tell your GP. If I hadn't listened to my body, it might have been too late for me.
I stumbled across Target Ovarian Cancer when I was looking at advice for younger women who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I wanted to see what information was out there for people my age.
I'd first gone to my doctor because I kept having a pain on my lower left-hand side. I'd also had backaches since I was 16. After doing a urine test I was told it was an infection and prescribed antibiotics.
At first the pain went away, but a month later it came back – worse than before. The backache got worse, I lost my appetite and suffered with bloating. This time my doctor sent me for an ultrasound. The test was painful and I knew something was wrong. Afterwards, I went to work but was in so much pain that I got sent home. A couple of days later my family came down from Wales and we went to A&E. They did a smear test, which looked okay but wasn't the right test – cervical smears don't test for ovarian cancer – but I was told I had to wait for the results of the ultrasound. On the Monday I got a phone call from the GP who said the scan showed a 12cm lump on my right ovary. I was completely shocked. I wouldn't be here if the GP hadn't taken action and sent me for more tests.
The hospital performed a laparotomy. They thought I had a dysgerminoma tumour – often found in younger women. Initially they thought there was a small chance it could be cancer, but after the operation the doctor told me that I had stage II ovarian cancer and that I would have to have chemotherapy.
When I went to hospital appointments with my mum, everyone thought it was her that had cancer, but it was me. But that wasn't the only difference with being a younger person with a diagnosis of cancer.
Before starting chemo, I was referred to a fertility specialist to collect my eggs. This was probably the hardest part for me. It forced me to think about the future, I felt like the decisions were taken out of my hands.
After three weeks of injections they only managed to collect one egg. It was upsetting to hear they'd only collected one egg; I was crying so much. They called the fertility specialist and he came down and was really honest. He calmed me down and they recommended that I speak to a counsellor.
Looking back on my experience, I think the opinion of young people getting cancer needs to change. If they had taken me seriously earlier on I would have had a different experience. I went to the GP with back pain; it was dismissed as growing pains. When I mentioned stomach aches and bloating it was put down to infection, they didn't think of any other reasons. I remember going to A&E before my diagnosis with stomach pains – my consultant recently told me that they probably would have discovered my diagnosis then if I'd had an ultrasound or an MRI!
I hear it from other people, not just with ovarian cancer, similar experiences that have turned out to be a serious problem. Because they were younger they didn't feel they were taken as seriously. I want to make sure people do listen to us. Before my diagnosis I had never met anyone my age who has had ovarian cancer.
Fear of the unknown
I had a couple of bad days during the first round of chemo, but the second and third chemo were worse. I ended up with an infection and my temperature was up and down.
Now I've been given the all-clear, and I definitely think the whole experience has changed me for the better. It changed my mentality and taught me that it's okay to put yourself first. Now I feel more confident. I've learned that sometimes you have to face your fear of the unknown. If I can get out of my comfort zone and go through surgery and chemotherapy, then I can do anything!