Sarah and her auntie taking part in the Belfast Walk Run wearing Target Ovarian Cancer tshirts and pushing a toddler in a pram

Lesley and Sarah’s story

Lesley passed away in 2017 at the age of 46, just four days after her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Her daughter Sarah is sharing their experience to raise awareness in the hope that it will help other families to spot the symptoms sooner.

At times I still think to myself, if we'd known more about ovarian cancer and mum had had access to treatment sooner, would she still be here today?

My mum, Lesley, was the most caring person who would've done anything for anyone. I loved spending time with her – going on holidays, shopping, girly nights out. Sunday dinners at my mum’s were the best.

When my oldest son was born, she became a devoted grandma, always happy to help. It was lovely to see the bond they had.

Multiple hospital visits with no confirmed diagnosis

Mum started to experience symptoms of bloating and fatigue, as well as always feeling full, in 2015. Two years before she passed away. She contacted her GP to get checked and after a number of return trips she was finally sent for a scan which confirmed there were cysts on her ovaries.

During the next 12-18 months, mum had to make regular trips to the hospital to have the cysts drained. At the start we were reassured that the fluid had been tested and it was all clear, nothing to worry about.

Looking back, I don’t remember it being explained to either of us what they were or why they needed draining – just that that was the best course of action to help with mum’s discomfort. After the cysts had been drained it did give her a bit of relief from the pain and uncomfortable feeling that she had.

Mum was admitted to hospital on a Saturday evening (11 November 2017) in Belfast. As a family, we got a call to come up the next morning and were told she had cancer. I can't even remember them saying anything else, I just heard the word cancer and my whole world froze. I felt numb. 

She passed away just four days later.

Just 26 years old at the time, I had never heard of ovarian cancer. The word ‘cancer’ had not been used before in relation to mum’s condition, so it wasn’t on my radar.

Family history

I’ve since learnt that my mum had a cousin who also passed away from ovarian cancer a few years prior, so other members of my family were aware of the disease.

A couple of years after I lost my mum, I went to the GP because I was getting concerned about our family’s medical history. I just really wanted peace of mind.

It's recommended to speak to your GP if there are two or more cases of ovarian cancer and/or breast cancer on either your mother or father's side of the family. 

They did ask some questions about that family history, but didn’t do any tests at the time and advised me that I wasn't at risk due to my age. If I was still concerned in the future, then I can go back once I reach my mid-30s.

This is quite scary to think about as what if it's too late then? I have two young children to look after, and I want to be here for them.

Target Ovarian Cancer

I found Target Ovarian Cancer on Facebook and started following its page. In the autumn of 2021, I was inspired to take part in an event hosted by the charity, The Ovarian Cancer Walk|Run in Belfast and raise money to help continue their work.

Together with my auntie (Lesley's sister) we raised over £200.

Sarah and her auntie taking part in the Belfast Walk Run wearing Target Ovarian Cancer tshirts and pushing a toddler in a pram

Sharing my family’s experience is another way I can help by raising awareness. I'm an only child and at the age of 26 I lost my mum. I want to make other families aware of this disease, in the hope that they won't have to face the same heartache.

I also want to highlight how ovarian cancer can affect younger people – there is no age restriction – and help women of all ages feel confident to go to their GP and make sure their concerns are taken seriously.

If you’ve been affected by this story and would like to speak to a specialist nurse, you can call our dedicated support line on 020 7923 5475 or contact us: [email protected]. We're open from 9am until 5pm, Monday to Friday.

If reading this story has helped you, join the Ovarian Cancer Community to connect with more people affected by ovarian cancer: 

Four people and their dog standing inside a Target Ovarian Cancer smiling

Ovarian Cancer Walk|Run London

Join us in Regent's Park on Sunday 22 October. Walk, jog or run – 5k or 10k and go the distance to transform the future for everyone affected by ovarian cancer.