When Hazel's dog Bob jumped on her tummy, it made her think twice about the discomfort she'd been experiencing for a few weeks. Hazel was a primary school teacher and had put her bloating and tiredness down to a hectic lifestyle.
Here she talks about the joy of living, and why she believes her dog Bob might well have saved her life...
"It might be just a complete fluke, but I think my dog saved my life"
I have a border collie called Bob. When he started acting weirdly around me, I just put it down to having recently moved house. One day he leapt on me, pawed on my abdomen and completely winded me! It was totally out of character, but it made me think 'my abdomen is quite swollen'.
Running to the loo
I thought it was probably a hernia, and made an appointment to see my doctor to check. I was examined internally and sent straight for a scan. A few days later I went for another scan. By that stage I'd got a lot worse – running to the loo (not ideal with a class full of kids!) and struggling with a complete lack of appetite.
A few weeks later the ascites started. My stomach got so swollen that I immediately went to hospital. It was at this point that I was told there was a 'growth' inside my abdomen and that I'd need surgery. They also said I might need a stoma. I was only 49-years-old and – aside from the swelling – I was actually feeling fine.
I'm a keen hill walker and I enjoy all things mountaineering, camping and cycling. I was determined that, if I did need a stoma, it was going to be placed in a way that missed my rucksack straps! Fortunately, I didn't need it in the end, which was such a relief.
After the surgery, doctors confirmed my diagnosis: low-grade ovarian cancer. I was told chemo wouldn't be effective, but they recommended that I have four cycles of carboplatin anyway.
By this time, my partner and I had been apart for a year. I sat down and re-evaluated everything and decided to move back in. Neil proposed to me on my 50th birthday. We'd been apart for the entire time I had been ill, but I'm thankful it happened that way. I was off work for six months, and it gave me time to really reflect on life and what was important to me. While I was convalescing, I was in this amazing rural area. It was a very healing place and helped give me time for re-evaluation.
Before my op, I contacted a humanist celebrant to start organising my own funeral. Odd as it sounds, it was actually a very cathartic thing to do. The kids had resigned themselves to me dying, but six months later and the next time I spoke to the celebrant, we were planning my wedding!
Of course I know my cancer might come back. But then again, it might not. Having cancer has taught me that we often let silly things get in the way of life. We shouldn't wait until we're unwell to find joy in living. Life is a gift – you should use it. I totally get how lucky I am, and I'm starting by thanking Bob.