Nicola was getting ready to start a new job and a new life abroad when she diagnosed with stage I ovarian cancer…
My mental health has improved as a result of my diagnosis. Life prior to cancer was a treadmill. Now, I spend much more time being grateful for the simple things and living in the present.
Not on the radar
I'd experienced severe, persistent bloating for around three months before my diagnosis. I had severe constipation and impaction of the bowels but was also needing to go for a wee every hour. Doctors initially treated me for constipation and water infections before I was admitted to hospital with abdominal pains. A CT scan revealed a large cystic mass on my ovary.
Ovarian cancer wasn't even on my radar. I truly believed the smear test had me covered for anything gynaecological.
I underwent surgery to remove my left ovary, fallopian tube and the mass. Although the mass ruptured in surgery, further biopsies concluded that the operation had been successful and no other cancer cells were detected in my body. I didn't end up needing chemotherapy or radiotherapy. I feel very lucky that it was caught so early.
I think the most difficult aspect of my diagnosis was worrying about my finances while I was unwell. I was due to start a new job abroad just days after my admittance to hospital and my contract at my old job had ended that same week. I ended up without any income for months but had all the same outgoings to account for. I remember feeling confident that I would get better but just wishing the time away so I could get back to work. Luckily I was able to access some financial support from Macmillan in the form of a one-off grant.
I think I'm lucky in that I don't particularly want to take my mind off the cancer diagnosis. I'd like to think I take it and channel it positively into other areas of my life now – waking up and reminding myself of what happened to make me grateful for every single day and opportunity. I was a teacher at the time of being taken into hospital, but since then I have decided to change paths and focus on two of my other passions: fitness and psychology. My master's studies keep me busy lots of the time. Aside from that, I do something called CrossFit most days and am very passionate about the links between physical activity and mental health and cognition.
I think raising awareness for ovarian cancer is hugely important. I was told that had I got on that plane to my new job I probably wouldn't have made it. The mass in my stomach was so large that it would have burst due to cabin pressure. I was lucky, but it would have been easy for me to get on that plane thinking it was just constipation because I wasn't aware the symptoms linked to anything more sinister. Raising awareness could mean that just one person who experiences these symptoms gets checked out, catches it early and can get treated.
My message to other women would be to make sure you ask all the questions you need to. The NHS is amazing so don't be afraid to push for tests. Use charities and organisations and connect with others going through the same thing. As a young person, I had so many concerns around fertility and it was only through reading other people's stories and connecting that I was able to understand what I needed to do, ask and consider.
Lastly, I want to tell those women to focus on their passions and try to forget about practicalities like money and routines – they will come back once you are back to full health. In the meantime, just hold your loved ones a little bit closer.