The sooner ovarian cancer is detected the easier it can be to treat. If diagnosed at the earliest stage, 9 in 10 women will survive. Claire talks about her experience as a younger woman with ovarian cancer and why an early diagnosis may have helped save her life...
The news was a huge shock. I was 32 and facing a radical hysterectomy and early onset menopause. In many ways I just didn't fit the stereotype for ovarian cancer because I was younger, but just because you don’t fit the mould of someone who might have it, doesn’t mean doctors shouldn’t consider it. Early diagnosis saved my life.
I’d initially decided to make an appointment to speak to my GP after developing a nagging pain in my side. I’d always had heavy periods but this new pain – along with bloating and generally not feeling well – was something I wanted to get checked out. Gynae cancer wasn’t in my mind at all. I didn’t know anything about ovarian cancer or its symptoms, but as someone with type 1 diabetes I'm pretty good at recognising when something isn't right with my body.
I was very fortunate that my GP took my concerns seriously and sent me for an ultrasound scan. The ultrasound results led to me being sent for a CT scan. I can honestly say I was petrified at this point because no one could really tell me what they were expecting. The evening of my CT scan I remember the radiographer saying to me, “I hope everything goes well for you”. I knew then that something was wrong. Within a week my results came through and I was told I had a cancerous lump on one of my ovaries.
My CA125 levels were only very slightly raised so the initial plan was to remove the lump and the ovary. We did discuss that there might be the need to do more, but at this point anything drastic was a ‘worst-case’ scenario. As a result, there was little time spent discussing my fertility or the potential impact this might have.
So just four months after seeing my GP I was on an operating table. Fortunately, my surgeon was the most wonderful professional I have ever met. He was there when I woke up and he delivered the devastating news that while my cancer had indeed been stage I, it had adhered to both my ovary and my uterus and couldn't be removed without the risk of the tumour splitting. This meant that at the age of 32 I had undergone a radical hysterectomy. I would never be pregnant, and I was faced with early onset menopause.
Recovery was rough – both physically and mentally – and it took some time to get the HRT levels right. I had very little understanding of the menopause at this point. But although the physical recovery wasn’t too bad, mentally it was much harder. Children had never been a priority for me but I felt I’d had the decision taken away from me. That was hard.
As tough as it’s been, I have very little criticism of the whole process. I'm ultimately fortunate that my symptoms were taken seriously, and I survived with no follow up treatment. It can still be hard at times, but I am surrounded by wonderful friends, family and medical professionals – both gynae and diabetes consultants. Their ongoing support has allowed me to forge a new future for myself. These days I try to live in the moment. In April 2019 I completed a 15,000 ft skydive and raised over £600 for Target Ovarian Cancer. I even made my diabetic consultant jump with me!
My diagnosis has taught me the importance of being aware of your own body. An ovarian cancer diagnosis isn’t necessarily a death sentence. If you catch this early, there are many positive outcomes. If sharing my story can help just one person to spot the symptoms or get an earlier diagnosis, I’m happy.
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