health

Some life-saving advice from a woman who knows: "Ovarian cancer is sh*t"

Some advice from my oldest friend in the world: Ovarian cancer is shit. Do whatever you can not to get it.

Five years ago, my oldest friend in the world told me she was going to die.

She’s the kid I grew up with. Weekend after weekend in each other’s pockets. You’ve got one of those friends too, don’t you? We all do. Your first best friend. Your almost-sister.

Her older sister rang me one night. “Bridget has cancer.”

Shit, I thought.

Not Bridget.

Anyone but Bridget.

Bridget and me, aged 10.

Five years on and two re-occurrences, she is still here.  But, as she says to me, she WILL die from this damn disease.

Before she does, whenever that happens, she is determined to get the message out: ovarian cancer is shit, but if you don’t know about it you don’t have a hope in hell of beating it.

Bridget.

So — take the time to read what Bridget has to say. It could save your life:

Dear Friends, acquaintances, old colleagues and women of Australia,

Here is what I want to say – ovarian cancer is shit. Do whatever you can not to get it.

Here is what I will say – today is World Ovarian Cancer day I’d like to share these facts about the disease I am living with and hope you never experience it:

1.     It is not a “silent killer”.

It’s certainly a killer – three out of every five of us diagnosed will be dead within five years. But it’s not silent.

Everyone I have met with ovarian cancer had symptoms before she was diagnosed and a recent survey by Ovarian Cancer Australia found half of us made two or more visits to the GP before we were diagnosed, one in five went at least three times and 20 percent of us ended up in emergency before we were diagnosed.

This isn’t silent.

It’s just hard to work out it’s ovarian cancer because the symptoms can be easily dismissed or attributed to something else.

2.     Know the symptoms, listen to your body and talk to your GP.

We know our bodies better than anyone else. So we know when something is amiss, when something isn’t quite right for us. The four most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

·       Abdominal or pelvic pain.

·       Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating.

·       Needing to urinate often or urgently.

·       Feeling full after eating a small amount.

These are things that seem so simple but if you have any of these symptoms, they are new for you and you have experienced them multiple times during a four-week period then go and see your GP and talk about them and ask about ovarian cancer.

And if you’re still having them, keep asking. Most times it won’t be it. But at least consider it because the sooner you know, the better.

Bridget Whelan and Alison Amos, chief executive of Ovarian Cancer Australia.

3.     Don’t assume it’s a disease for retirees.

Most woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer are in their 60s.

Except for everyone I meet. They’re in the 30s and 40s. Maybe the 65 year olds are at home.

I was 36, my cousins were in their 40s and my friend was 41… I know women with a genetic predisposition (a BRCA gene mutation) are more likely to get it earlier, but my experience still doesn’t match the stats.

 4.     See a gynaecological oncologist.

If you think you have ovarian cancer, ask your GP to refer you to a gynaecological oncologist.

Multiple studies have shown that women do better if their surgery is performed by a gynaecological oncologist rather than their gynaecologist or obstetrician.

 5.     If you have ovarian cancer, have genetic testing.

All woman who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and aged less than 70 should be offered genetic testing.

The Australian guidelines say this. Clear as a bell. But it’s not happening. Certainly more women are being tested than even a few years ago, which is terrific. But not everyone if offered it. Which means those women don’t have the chance to know and inform their families; their families don’t have the chance to take preventative action if they are affected; and those women don’t have the chance to have screening for breast cancer.

If you have ovarian cancer and aren’t offered genetic testing, ask.

6.     You can get the genetic mutation from your Dad.

I did.

That a surprise for many people. They assume that because it’s a breast cancer mutation, I must have got it from my mum.

It’s a 50-50 chance. We all have this gene – I could have got my mum’s good one but I got my dad’s defective one.

Luck of the draw.

 7.     You can get ovarian cancer again even if you don’t have ovaries.

This also seems to surprise people.

I had my ovaries and other bits out in 2010 and yet I got ovarian cancer again. And again. Yes, it’s not growing on my ovaries anymore because I don’t have them. But it’s still ovarian cancer when it’s growing on my liver or bowel or on the lining of my abdomen (peritoneum).

 8.     Know your family history.

Up to 20% of ovarian cancers are thought to be inherited. There are other genetic factors (besides BRCA mutations) and we don’t know much about them or have tests for them. So if you can, know your family history and tell your GP.

 9.     Talk about it.

Make sure your friends know the symptoms of ovarian cancer and encourage them to see their GP if they have them. Remind them they know their body best so if they don’t feel ok, they are right to keep asking.

And if you have genetic testing and find you’re a genetic mutant like me, tell your family and encourage them to get tested.

Knowledge really is power.

There are terrific counselling services which will help you decide whether you want to have testing and what a positive and negative result means.

Yours-in-beating-this bastard,

Bridget Whelan

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