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Please do not procrastinate about your health. This is why.

Ilka Carapina

By ILKA CARAPINA

I’m a procrastinator.  I will leave starting something until the last possible moment, except when it concerns my health.

Late 2010 during my third year in Dubai I started needing to get up earlier and earlier in the morning to go to the loo.  I remember a night following a going away party that I had to get up 3 times during the night.  This was unheard of for me.  I put it down to the quantity of red wine I’d drunk.

Not long after I had returned to Australia (permanently) and as the frequent urination was continuing, I didn’t hesitate to make an appointment to see my GP.  She ordered an ultrasound which showed (much) endometriosis and a CT confirmed the endometriosis.  A visit to the gynaecologist resulted in a visit to a gynaecologist oncologist.  Surgery was needed and there was a possibility of Ovarian Cancer.  During this time I also started experiencing changes in my bowel habits, bloating and some at times excruciating pain in the pelvic, kidney and top of thigh regions.

As the gynaecologist oncologist didn’t know what surgery he needed to perform, as the endometriosis was widespread, my consent form read like a list of all the gynae procedures I knew and some I didn’t.

Surgery revealed an endometrioma on 1 ovary and cancer on the other ovary (Stage I).  Recovery from the surgery required 6 weeks, think of a classic caesarean incision, from belly button to almost your private parts.  Prior to surgery I even had the beauty therapist try and make an arrow pointing upwards so they wouldn’t cut too low.

As much as I thought I was prepared for the cancer diagnosis it was still a shock.  My knowledge of the disease had me thinking I was too young to have ovarian cancer.  I was 40 at the time, and any time I’d heard of a woman with ovarian cancer, she was usually in her 60’s or older.  Being 40 I had been contemplating having children the last few years, as I don’t have any.  That decision had now been made for me.

Get checked out and get involved.

The beginning of 2011 had some major life events for me: resigned a job, packed up my life in Dubai, returned to Australia, moved house and started a new job all in a short period of time.  Those life events were of a different category to a cancer diagnosis.  A cancer diagnosis particularly as it’s of the reproductive organs introduces so many issues that I needed to evaluate or re-evaluate: surgical menopause; fertility; body image; managing relationships; dating; employment; financial status….  Each of these would require their own telling.

I elected to have chemotherapy and it is during this time that I discovered how much the human body can take and still come out the other side only a little different.  I did 6 course of chemo over a five month period, which was exhausting. Everything takes so much effort and you feel like you’re walking through water. Even my thought processes were slower.

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My immune system suffered and I got to experience pneumonia and anaemic which required a blood transfusion.  I also experienced peripheral neuropathy, which had me with pins and needles in my hands and feet, and quite a bit of numbness which led to some clumsiness.  And of course there was the hair loss…everywhere!  Which was great for a time, no need for beauty therapy visits for a while.

Since it’s now over 2 years since I finished treatment, I had to sit and think about how I dealt with the chemo and what were the side effects.  I had forgotten some of the things I survived, and that could be due to not placing too much emphasis on something I saw as an unpleasant short-term journey that I wasn’t going to let rule my life.

During this journey I have learned much about myself and others.  A lesson that I can now verbalise to myself is that that there are things I can control and things I can’t.  I change those that are within my control and work through those that aren’t.  I’ve now applied this lesson by taking a time out from my career (in Health IT) and doing more for the community and myself.  Volunteering at Ovarian Cancer Australia and working in the not for profit sector is extremely fulfilling and rewarding!  It took me a while to make this decision, partly due to procrastinating and partly I was undecided about what to do.

Please do not procrastinate about your health, if your body is behaving differently, get it checked out!

Ilka Carapina was diagnosed with ovarian cancer May 2011 and whilst undergoing treatment project manged the first release of the National Health Services Directory (NHSD).  She went to europe for a couple months last year (2013) re-evaluated what she wanted, resigned from my job, and am now volunteering for Ovarian Cancer Australia and working at the Lost Dogs home.

Ovarian Cancer Australia  is calling on all Australians this February to show their support for women with ovarian cancer by getting involved in Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

In an annual month-long campaign,  Ovarian Cancer Australia  invites  men and women of all ages to help raise awareness of the symptoms, risks and impacts of ovarian cancer, as well as raise vital funds for support, awareness, advocacy and research.

Ovarian Cancer Australia’s  major fundraising initiative, Afternoon Teal®  encourages Australians to host a fundraising event for their friends, family or colleagues. Events range from a work bake-off, to an afternoon picnic, to a traditional high tea,  or  any other event.  Registrations are open at www.ovariancancer.net.au. Those too busy to languish over a  brew  of  (iced)  tea can show their support simply by purchasing a teal ribbon and  wearing  it on  Teal Ribbon Day,  Wednesday 26th February. Colour for a Cause teal nail polish packs are  also available at Chemmart®  Pharmacies nationally, with proceeds going to  Ovarian Cancer Australia to help fund advocacy, research and support programs for ovarian cancer.

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