Mandy has taken part in our online support events during lockdown...
My name is Mandy. I have recurrent ovarian cancer and it’s been more than five years since my diagnosis. This is my story…
I would say things began in late 2013, but like many women with ovarian cancer, I’d been experiencing symptoms before that. And like many women, I put them down to the onset of the menopause. One of them slightly worried me: a bloated tummy. But I wasn’t worried enough to take time off work and go to the GP. I promised myself I would go in the Christmas holidays.
Before I could get to the GP, things went sideways. I went to work feeling fine but developed extreme tummy pain. At my local walk-in clinic I was diagnosed with a large hernia and given paracetamol. I went home but the pain only got worse, so I went to my GP. She was brilliant. The following day I had a CT scan and two hours later a lovely man came into my room and introduced himself as a gynae-oncology consultant. I was operated on quickly, and on Christmas Eve we learned that I had advanced, high-grade serous ovarian cancer. At this point I knew very little about ovarian cancer and I used websites like Target Ovarian Cancer's to fill in the gaps. I started six cycles of chemotherapy, which was very hard and there were times when I wanted to stop, but I stuck with it.
In summer I went back to work. I felt great. The next year was a brilliant year in our household. I celebrated my 50th, my kids had their 18th and 21st birthdays, and it was our silver wedding anniversary. We had fantastic family holidays. We loved and appreciated each other and the world more than ever. I even did the Great North Run! The following year I applied and got my dream job. But then, gently, over a much longer period of time, things began to slide again.
Being thrown a curveball
I was six months into the new job and over three years post-diagnosis. One evening I leaned against the kitchen counter and thought I could feel a lump. I waited a couple of weeks to make sure it wasn’t just an undigested sprout before contacting the team at my hospital. A CT scan revealed a new tumour and I was back to treatment. At this point I used Target Ovarian Cancer’s services more than I had the first time. Articles giving advice on how to deal with recurrence were really valuable and I made contact with the specialist nurses on the Support Line.
I had a second surgery and more chemo, and my medical team were brilliant. Before chemo started I had another curveball – to my utter astonishment a CT scan revealed spots of disease in my lungs. I have to say that news really threw me. After the initial shock and a bit of doom and gloom, I felt so angry. I just couldn’t understand how there could possibly be disease there with no visible symptoms. Apart from recovering from surgery I felt absolutely fine. I think that’s what annoys me most about this disease – the way it can sneak upon you. I resent the way it makes me a bit paranoid.
Giving up work
So I finished treatment. It was so difficult to get through – but I had a worse challenge ahead: I decided to give up work. I could talk to anyone about my cancer and outlook and feel calm, strong and accepting of the situation but every time I tried to speak about giving up work, I became an emotional wreck. From the outset, I had been determined that cancer would never define me or interfere with my plans, but I was now faced with the reality that there probably wouldn’t be a happily ever after. So with the support of my family and medical team I took early retirement and decided to make life a “happily ever now”.
A wise old friend once told me not to focus on the shadows in life but look to where the light begins. And that’s what I did. I started to think of my cancer as an opportunity to stop working and really savour life. Now my favourite days are taking myself off to the Northumberland Coast for a solitary walk on the beach and a nice lunch. I’ve joined my local gym and discovered the joy of spinning classes. I go to the cinema during the day! The hubby and I have even tried swing dancing classes.
Living with ovarian cancer
Life is as good as it’s going to get so let’s crack on. We’re living parts of our dream and, because life is precious, we don’t do the things we may once have felt we had to do. I think cancer has brought out the best in me and my friends and family too. We are more tolerant and caring and we take every opportunity we can to enjoy the here and now and hopefully create some great memories.
I rarely feel sad about cancer but I do sometimes worry that it’s back. Although I am well I regularly touch base with Target Ovarian Cancer’s website and have also contacted the nurse specialists again recently. The support line is great – it’s so valuable to have expert help and support at the end of the phone.
Coronavirus has been another huge challenge. I’ve been taking part in Target Ovarian Cancer’s online sessions, and it’s great to see other women, because I feel really isolated. Even when things return to normal I’ll still be unsure about going out, and I’ll definitely still use these online sessions. They feel personal, and I feel so much more connected to other women.
As for later this year? I was going to run the Great North Run 2020 but it’s been cancelled, so I have pledged to run 55 miles in September instead to raise money. One mile for every year of my precious life.