You can be young and get ovarian cancer.
I should know, I was 36 years old with an 8 year old daughter when I was diagnosed with a mixed ovarian germ cell tumour. Ovarian germ cell tumour is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the germ (egg) cells of the ovary. They are a rarer form of ovarian cancer usually occurring in teenage girls or young women. There are only 100 cases per year of this type of cancer.
For the majority of last year I was back and forth to the doctors surgery with a variety of symptoms. It started with lower back pain followed by the flu, two chest infections, an ear infection, pleurisy that consequently lead to a sprained rib from the chronic cough that I simply could not shift and not forgetting the exhaustion which I put largely down to being a single mother and the stresses and strains of modern life! I struggled more than ever with my health and well being and could not seem to get well again. I had pelvic pain, nausea, constipation and the need to urinate more frequently. One night I experienced acute abdominal pain, fever and diarrhoea. I had this strong sense it was a female related issue and had thought perhaps it was an ovarian cyst that had burst. However, when I was examined by the GP the next day, after examination he suspected it was a hernia on my right hand side. The diagnosis of a suspected hernia just did not sit right with me so after a couple of weeks of feelings of doubt, I cancelled the appointment with the hernia specialist and requested that the GP refer me for a pelvic ultrasound scan instead. At one point I thought I might even be experiencing a phantom pregnancy because the bloating made me look four months pregnant and some of my symptoms mirrored those of my best friend who was expecting at the time. I started to think I was losing my mind and imagining my tummy was swollen. I questioned if it had always been that big or perhaps I had put on a few extra pounds. Instinctively, I knew there was something wrong with me and yes, cancer had crossed my mind, but only fleetingly. Cancer was my number one fear and I really did not want to let my mind go there. I reassured myself and dismissed the thought, surely if the doctors were in any way concerned they would be sending me more urgently for tests and scans, particularly after nine months of symptoms and countless visits to the doctors. At my request I eventually went for the pelvic ultrasound scan where they discovered a 14cm tumour on my left ovary. In a strange way it was a relief to me they had found it because it meant my mind hadn't been playing tricks on me after all, but on the flip side I was absolutely terrified to learn I, Lucy, 36 years old, mother to Gracie had the c-word. I thought it was a death sentence. I didn't want to die and leave Gracie without her "mama". It all started to move pretty quickly from there and two weeks later I had open surgery to remove the affected ovary (my left ovary had become the tumour and grown to 18cm) the fallopian tube and lymph nodes. Not only was it a shock it was a very steep learning curve. Whilst recovering from surgery I waited two agonising months under close surveillance to find out if I would need chemotherapy. I was lucky, I didn't need any further treatment after surgery because my cancer was caught early and was Stage 1a.
Strangely, I feel I have been lucky in my bad luck and it is wonderful to be a survivor and reassuring I will be monitored closely for the foreseeable future. Germ cell tumours make up about 2% of ovarian cancer cases and have a very high survival rate of better than 99%. Each woman's experience is different and the treatment pathway depends on the type, stage and grade of ovarian cancer.
Just 4% of women in the U.K. are very confident of spotting a symptom of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is often described as the "silent killer" because many times there are no symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. Early symptoms of ovarian cancer are often mild, making this disease difficult to detect. I did not miss any symptoms, I was very aware of my body. I was also far from silent and I may not have been as lucky if I'd ignored my gut instinct. If everyone was caught as early as me, they would be as lucky as me.
I don't think that I have yet accepted that I had an illness that could potentially be fatal, just that I have been challenged in the greatest way. I still feel upset and angry at the long distressing delay at being diagnosed. I had to make so much effort to keep going back to the doctors but I didn't feel listened to when I talked about my symptoms. My advice to everybody, male or female is to know your body. Go to your GP if something does not feel right and keep a diary of how you're feeling so you have proof of what's happening.
I want more women to be aware of the symptoms and for more health professionals to recognise that young women, especially those with a family history are also at risk.
You may be thinking what about smear tests? Cervical smear tests DO NOT test for ovarian cancer. There is no national screening programme for ovarian cancer in the U.K. because there is no test that reliably picks up ovarian cancer.
I am a very strong person and I am thankful for my beautiful daughter Gracie who I cherish so very much. This experience rocked me to the core but she was a wonderful source of strength, unconditional love and support. I tried to be brave for her and giving up was not an option.
Until CANCER happens to YOU, it won't be REAL. You won't know how it feels, how on earth could you know, but by showing your support and sponsoring Gracie and I to do the Race for Life you can help Cancer Research UK find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Help us to create more tomorrows for people. LETS BEAT CANCER SOONER.