After her diagnosis, Margaret was worried that her age might limit her treatment options. She talks about her experiences and why she’ll always be grateful to the NHS...
I cannot fault the NHS – the treatment I've had was amazing. I did initially worry that my age would impact the kind of treatment I might be offered since I was 75 when I was diagnosed, but I was immediately reassured this wouldn’t matter. Looking back, I feel so grateful for the excellent care I received.
Everyone's symptoms are different and mine were very mild. I certainly didn’t feel anything that I thought could have been ovarian cancer. I felt bloated, like I had a lump of concrete in my stomach, but I thought perhaps I was developing an allergy. I would just make a mental note of what I had eaten that day so I could avoid that food in future. It was only after several rounds of treatment for urine infections (UTIs) that I went back to visit the GP and found the mass. I’d been long out of the menopause and in hindsight there may have been a lot of symptoms I put down to old age.
After the GP visit I was referred to the hospital and eventually diagnosed with stage III high-grade serous ovarian cancer. Although my diagnosis came as a shock, I had already prepared myself.
I was told my cancer was incurable, inoperable but controllable. The consultant explained that I would have chemo to manage the cancer. I got into a pattern with the treatment – I’d have chemo on a Friday, feel lethargic on the Wednesday and then just as I’d start feeling better it would be Friday again and time for another round. I planned my life around it and tried to take each day as it came.
After finishing my first full round of treatment I was told my cancer had shrunk more than first anticipated and was offered debulking surgery. I have now been told there is no evidence of disease (NED) and ready to go out and live my life.
I knew that my treatment meant that I would lose my hair and I decided to take things into my own hands and had a friend shave my head. It just felt like the only thing I would have control of. Fortunately, my family, friends and the hair loss team at the hospital were great. I ended up having a wig fitting online and chose a wig that was completely different to my normal hair. Lots of people who knew me had no idea I was wearing a wig.
I also received such great support during my treatment. I went to online sessions on wig care and got tips for how to draw eyebrows on. Some of the sessions were one-on-one and some were in groups with other women going through the same thing as me. I also found the Ovarian Cancer Community. It was heartbreaking to hear other people’s journeys – especially younger women with children, but cancer has no age barriers.
Since finishing chemo I’ve been taking new treatment niraparib (Zejula®) and, aside from some initial side effects, now my dosage has been lowered I have been coping well.
If I had one message for other women it would be, if in doubt, find out. If you have any worries, just try and find out as early as possible. If my doctor hadn't called me in that day to examine me, who knows what could have happened. Even if you think you’re making a nuisance of yourself, just ask!
It’s been a whirlwind of a year but I'm here to tell the tale! I'm thankful for all the NHS has done for me but now it’s up to me to do the rest. I feel very positive. I’m ready to go out and live my life.
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