health

This is what ovarian cancer looks like. Being aware could save your life.

Three years ago, I was 41.  I had two sons, aged 7 and 11 and was raising them on my own.  It sounds like a cliché, but until that time, it’s true to say that I felt happy and healthy.

Three years ago, I was diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer.

Until the moment of my diagnosis, I honestly don’t think I’d ever heard of ovarian cancer. I certainly wasn’t aware of the symptoms.  If I had, I’d like to think I would have been more vocal in demanding to be tested.  However, it was only after I’d been to see six different doctors that I was finally diagnosed.

Wednesday 25 February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day.  I’m sharing my story in the hope of raising awareness about this devastating disease, and to help raise funds for important Australian medical research currently being undertaken at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, to find a blood-based test to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages.

I know now that the first real symptom I experienced was overwhelming tiredness – the kind of tired that no amount of sleep can cure.   I then developed an odd stomach pain that I can still vividly recall.  It was a cold pain – like I had ice in my stomach and nothing could make the pain go away.  The pain became worse and what should have been simple, everyday tasks like bending down to tie my son’s shoe laces became too painful.

ovarian cancer
Everyday tasks like bending down to tie my son’s shoe laces became too painful. Image via iStock
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I soon noticed a bump in my stomach. I’m a petite woman, so even a small bump was noticeable. If I was wearing tight fitting clothes, I found myself sucking in my stomach.  The bump grew and grew, and before long, I soon looked like I was about to give birth…to twins. Simply walking was painful and slow.  The only way I could walk was if I was in a position that resembled a chicken.

When I developed the stomach pain, I went to see my doctor.  Over the coming two and half months, I went to see many doctors – six in fact.  The general consensus seemed to be that I was constipated, however treatment for this didn’t stop the pain or lessen the size of my growing stomach.  Still, not one doctor suggested that I “pop up on the table” for an examination.

So, my message to women is this – we know our bodies, and we generally know when something isn’t right.  If you are uneasy about anything, don’t put off going to your doctor. If you don’t feel like you are getting the right answers, keep pushing.

Best case scenario – being persistent will most likely give you peace of mind. Worst case scenario – it might save your life.

When I was diagnosed, I immediately thought, “I am going to die. Soon.”  This was devastating to me – all I could think about was my children.  They were so young. What would happen to my children?

Thankfully, I have amazing doctors and specialists, family and friends. Here I am, three years later, embracing life and taking each day as it comes.  Every morning I wake up and feel truly blessed to have another day with my boys, who are now aged 11 and 14.

As with most cancers, the simple fact is that the earlier the disease is detected, the better the chances of a positive outcome.  Here are the facts:

  • More than 1,400 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year.
  • Of these women, 70% are diagnosed at late stage and have a five year survival rate of just 20-30%.
  • Consequently, more than 900 women tragically lose their lives to ovarian cancer each year.
  • However, if ovarian cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, the five year survival rate increases dramatically to more than 70%.

The statistics speak for themselves – you can see why I am so passionate about helping the researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research to find a simple, early detection blood test.

When I think about the impact that Garvan’s research will have on future generations of women diagnosed with this disease, my own situation leads me to not only think about the hundreds of women who will hopefully live longer, happy lives. I also think of their children and how blessed they will be to grow up with their mothers.

I am hopeful that the research being carried out at the Garvan Institute will save lives, but they need our support to continue this work.

For more information about Garvan’s research into ovarian cancer, or to make a donation to help continue this vital research, visit www.giving.garvan.org.au/ovariancancer

You can learn more about ovarian cancer and its symptoms here.

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