Reeta was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer after a chance mention to a healthcare professional outside of her GP practice. She wants to encourage women to not be embarrassed about their symptoms and break the stigma around gynae cancer.
The reason for sharing my story is not that I want to change the world, but because I want every woman to be determined to fight their corner.
Knowing your own body
No one knows your body better than you, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I knew something wasn’t right, and that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal for me.
See your GP, tell them you’re worried about cancer and have it ruled out. Plenty of my friends have done this now and it’s put their minds at ease.
There is some awkwardness and embarrassment within the Asian community particularly about cancer, and it’s much more heightened with gynaecological issues. Which is why I feel it is all the more important to be speaking about my experience.
I hate to say it but I was embarrassed to tell people I had ovarian cancer. I felt dirty and weak. I knew these thoughts were wrong, but the stigma has always been there. It has occurred to me since my treatment ended how very few people knew I had ovarian cancer. And for those who did know, they struggled to ask how I was or mention it because of the embarrassment and awkwardness.
I even felt this as I sat in front of the locum GP, telling him about my symptoms. It was unbelievable how awkward he was. This could’ve had devastating effects had I not spoken to another professional. The cancer could’ve progressed and I might not be sat here today.
Since the treatment has stopped this has all hit me. It has hit me how much of a close call it was.
My symptoms started after I returned home from a holiday in the summer of 2022. I had acid reflux and put it down to too much food and wine. When it didn’t go away, I saw the locum GP who put me on anti-acids. It didn’t resolve anything. When I then had an upset stomach, I went back to see him.
I was told I could have IBS, but what I know now is that IBS in the over 50s is very rare. I’m 57, so as I experienced more symptoms – a heaviness and pain in my abdominal area and around my lower back – I looked to menopause information.
Working as a nurse, my colleagues and I would often talk about the menopause, so I went through the symptoms associated with it. I ticked them off and it made sense.
However, the heaviness continued, and everything felt inflamed. The locum suggested I had gallstones, but I categorically knew I didn’t. I knew all of this was not normal for me.
During a routine appointment in December with the doctor who was managing my HRT, as I was about to leave when I mentioned this heaviness. He made me feel very much at ease and safe while doing a small scan.
He referred me to someone he knew for a second scan at a later date – it was January by this point. I wasn’t worried, in fact I didn’t tell anyone about the scan.
As I lay there, the chatter subsided and the room went very quiet. They’d seen something they didn’t like. So I asked what could it be. Cancer, she said.
From there everything moved very quickly. Within ten days I was seeing an oncologist, and an MRI revealed both my ovaries were inflamed, along with my fallopian tubes. I had a total hysterectomy to remove the cancer and then started on chemotherapy.
Focus on your own journey
Before I started treatment, I was handed a number of leaflets for support groups. For me, treatment was like being on a treadmill, it was continuous and I remained focused.
I was on my own journey and I wasn’t ready at that time to reach out for support because it scared me.
For anyone who feels the same, I want to encourage them that it’s ok to take your time before you feel you want to reach out to support groups.
You need to do what’s right for you. I was and still am incredibly grateful to my loved ones for all the support they gave me when I did need it – it was invaluable.
Before my diagnosis of stage 3a ovarian cancer, I knew very little about ovarian cancer and its symptoms. I'm a registered nurse and know about cervical, breast and womb cancer, but never ovarian.
The symptoms – persistent bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly and needing to wee more often – can all be linked to other things.
Thankfully, I wasn’t afraid of going to the doctors about my symptoms, but I know that’s not the same for everyone. This determination saved my life.
Raising awareness and funds
We need to educate and raise awareness among the public and GPs. This is what Target Ovarian Cancer is passionate about and is the reason why I'm doing The Ovarian Cancer Walk|Run on Sunday 22 October at Regent’s Park.
The Camden Crew – which is my family and friends – have already raised over £1,500. This will go towards Target Ovarian Cancer training GPs and healthcare professionals to spot the signs of ovarian cancer and improve early diagnosis of the disease, as well as continuing their work to make symptoms information more widely available.
Knowing the symptoms of this disease is vital to receiving an early diagnosis and getting on the diagnosis pathway. I was fortunate enough to be referred by my HRT doctor.
We need to focus on taking away the stigma of gynae health, speaking about these symptoms and tailoring conversations to women across all communities – and encouraging everyone to talk about the issues affecting them. No matter if it’s cancer. No matter if it’s gynae related.
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.