Fewer than two months after a BRCA2 diagnosis, Janet discovered she had ovarian cancer. Here she talks about her symptoms, the pressure to remain positive and why – in the end – her diagnosis was a relief...
I really hated people telling me that I was strong and positive and I would get through it. I know people were saying the right things but it made me feel like it was my responsibility to be this Wonder Woman. In reality, I needed to know that it was okay to sometimes feel shattered by everything. I felt that I had to be the one to support everyone else.
Looking back I did have typical ovarian cancer symptoms. I'd just assumed that my intermittent bloating wasn't anything to worry about because whenever I read about ovarian cancer it only ever mentioned constant bloating as a sign of the disease.
After a while I started to feel full very quickly and I was obviously losing weight. I was also experiencing pain in the right side of my abdomen, but again this was not constant. I eventually had a UTI, which pushed me into going to see my GP. Fortunately my doctor took me very seriously – partly because I had recently discovered that I carried the faulty BRCA2 gene. My cousin had been treated for ovarian cancer and both her mother and my mum died of the disease, so the whole family had undergone genetic testing. I had the mutation, as did my sister, brother, my son and my niece.
My GP was fantastic. Within a month of seeing him I was having my first chemotherapy treatment. My tumour was stage III and had spread to my omentum and lymph nodes. To be honest, my diagnosis came as a relief. I felt that I could get on with dealing with the cancer.
I had carboplatin for three months, followed by debulking surgery and three more sessions of chemotherapy. I responded very well to the chemo – although it did make me anaemic. I carried on with life as normal really apart from the first few days following treatment when I felt wiped out and nauseous. I found my garden to be very therapeutic.
It's so very important to raise awareness of this disease and especially the BRCA2 connection. I'm often surprised by how many people have just never heard of it. I would encourage everyone to check his or her family history and get tested if necessary. I wasn't able to take preventative action because I was diagnosed only two months after discovering I carried the gene. However, I'm so pleased that my children and grandchildren now have this information. There is huge awareness of breast cancer but not nearly enough about ovarian cancer. I think that these should be linked and the family connection highlighted
My husband and I had saved hard during our working lives to ensure we could enjoy a happy and active retirement. We have a bucket list of places we want to see and experience and – initially – my diagnosis did feel as though this had been snatched away. However, once my treatment was completed we were able to continue our lovely holidays and I'm determined to get as much done as possible.
Now I want to give other women a positive message. Any diagnosis of cancer is shocking and often feels like a death sentence. I was told that my cancer was incurable but treatable and I had the memories of my poor mum suffering so badly so it was hard. However, my treatment was amazing and so much easier to cope with than I imagined. It is 18 months now since my last treatment and I can honestly say that I feel as well as I have ever felt and I am living my life to the full. Don't give up on yourself is my message!