Improving life for women through cancer research

Caroline’s Journey
  

"It has been a sometimes unpleasant
journey that has also had some
positive outcomes"
 

I had been feeling bloated and tired for some time, however I ignored it as I thought that was just a part of getting old.  I asked my husband who is a GP to feel my tummy, and he recommended that I get an opinion from my GP straight away.    My GP noted that my liver was slightly raised, did a blood test and booked me in for a scan the next week. 

When the blood test came back my CA-125 count marker – a protein found in ovarian cancer cells - was extremely high, which was the start of things being escalated.  That afternoon I had a CT scan which found fluid (ascites) in my stomach and it was then I knew it was cancer.  A couple of days later I saw a gynaecological oncologist who confirmed that I had Stage III ‘C’ ovarian cancer.  Stage III is one of the most advanced types of ovarian cancer as it has moved outside the uterus into the pelvis – basically it is no longer contained which makes it difficult to treat and also means that the cancer hasn’t at this stage, however will more than likely spread to other parts of the body down the track.

I was operated on promptly and when I woke, the surgeon told me that they removed what they could of the cancer however because it was so embedded, I required three rounds of chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumour before they could attempt to remove it all. The second operation was successful and again, was followed with three courses of chemotherapy.

The oncology services were fantastic and the gynaecological oncologists absolutely amazing – they are truly compassionate and caring people. 

It was a whirlwind treatment and surreal time in my life.

I had some gynaecologic work done the previous November and nothing out of the ordinary was detected, so the disease had developed from nothing to an advanced stage in under nine months.

I was diagnosed in August 2012 and finished active treatment in December that year. Since then I am being monitored every three months and am currently in the clear. It’s the kind of cancer that I clearly know is going to recur so I am just focussing on trying to get as far as I can being positive and hope to be in that bracket of survivors who are five years and beyond.

I keep working as my colleagues are wonderfully supportive and I needed to keep busy after I got over the treatment.  I have also been actively fundraising for ovarian cancer.

It has been a sometimes unpleasant journey that has also had some positive outcomes. 

It’s changed family relationships for the better and brought them closer together. The journey has also made me appreciate the more menial things in life.  I take more time to do small but special things such as walking my dog, enjoying time with my son who is about to start university, spending more time in the garden and even wearing bright colours.  I’m less judgmental of people.  I try and take more of an empathetic approach to others as you never know what their story is.

I am so inspired by people I’ve met along the way – particularly women from the gynaecological oncology cancer support groups.

Some of the ladies have had some horrific cancers and cancer journeys. I am in awe of them.  They are still carrying on, they are still coming to meetings and are happy to share and give support and advice.

My plans for the future include seeing more of Australia with my husband and to return to the UK to see my family.  I also plan to continue working on my fitness at the gym as keeping as fit as I can is a positive step in my life.  This is all assuming that my health continues to remain stable.

My message for anyone who has been diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer is a reminder that it isn’t an immediate death sentence – there’s still a lot to live for and there’s still al lot of things to do with your life.  Reach out as much as you can - take all opportunities that come your way that will benefit you.  Don’t be afraid to talk about what’s happened to you.  While this may not suit some people I don’t hide under the fact that I have a life threatening disease and if people ask I’m appreciative of their interest and happy to share my story.

My advice for those women who haven’t been diagnosed - be really vigilant about the signs that indicate symptoms. Don’t be afraid to visit your GP.    I could have easily not taken any action.  If I had recognised that the bloating and extreme tiredness was not normal I would have gone to the doctor earlier and the cancer would have been detected at a less advanced stage.  If you don’t feel physically right seek early intervention.  It’s your life at stake and what’s a couple of potentially embarrassing tests which may lead to early life saving intervention compared to facing a cancer journey.

You are the only person responsible for your body and your health.  I was too busy focussing on other people and never even considered that anything bad could happen to me. 
 
Gynaecological cancer can happen to anyone.  Of course in some cases people who are more at risk are those with a family history of the disease -  however it can also appear out of the blue  when you least expect it.  Because I am an identical twin, my sister has had her ovaries removed and is waiting for the genetic testing to take place.

I’m optimistic but realistic about what the future holds and have adopted the attitude to be as happy as I can be every day - though not every day is a good day. 

The worst thing now is waiting for the cancer to recur and wondering when that will be and how it will happen.  This is something I am learning to live with so it doesn’t stop me from getting on with life.

 
 

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