March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Eleven women die in the UK every day from ovarian cancer. Awareness of ovarian cancer is low, both among women and GPs, with two-thirds of women diagnosed once the cancer has already spread. During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, the ovarian cancer charities come together to raise awareness about the symptoms and make sure women have the best chances of survival. Shelley, 50 and from Brighton, was diagnosed with stage IIb high grade serous ovarian cancer in 2014. This is her story.
Being diagnosed with ovarian cancer came as a complete shock. I had never even heard of it before. I found a small lump on my belly button and thought I had a small hernia and perhaps I had pulled too many weights at the gym! I didn’t want to trouble my GP as it wasn’t causing me any trouble. Then, lying on my side one day in bed I noticed a lump about the size of a grapefruit appear on my left hand side just under the rib cage then disappear again. My husband insisted I saw the GP who initially diagnosed a hernia, but after examining my tummy could feel a swelling. He immediately arranged for me to have an ultrasound and it was then that I realised that this was more than a hernia.
Following my diagnosis I was given surgery and six rounds of chemotherapy. After the treatment I remained stable until June 2016, when my oncologists told me the cancer had returned – this time on my liver. More chemotherapy shrank the tumour and I was stable throughout 2017. Unfortunately this year tests showed I now have several small tumours in the abdominal area. We are currently discussing my treatment options and I hope to join a clinical trial for new ovarian cancer drug rucaparib.
My amazing oncologist suspected early on that there may be a genetic link. When we looked at my family history, my father had cancer and his mother died of ovarian cancer at age 42. I also have an Ashkenazi Jewish background, which makes me more likely to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. After tests I found out that I carry the BRCA1 mutation. This discovery is a double-edged sword. My daughter has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the genetic mutation, and I worry that she may need to make some difficult choices later on. On the other hand, knowing that I have the BRCA1 mutation opens up more treatment options for me.
People are often not aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer which means it is not caught early. I’ve made it my mission to raise awareness. Sometimes, as women, we have an attitude of “not to worry, it will be fine, just get on with it”. But early diagnosis saves lives. The symptoms ovarian cancer symptoms are: persistent bloating, feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite, abdominal pain needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual. I want women to recognise the symptoms so they can visit their GP if they are in any doubt or notice any changes. We are breathtakingly lucky to have our NHS and it is there to look after us.
My daughter Faye, who is just 14, has started her own crusade against cancer. She volunteers at a local Cancer Research UK shop, does fundraising and has created awareness posters to stick up around her school. She’s also been inspired to follow a career in cancer research. You can join us and Target Ovarian Cancer this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Download posters and leaflets or join them on Twitter (@TargetOvarian) or Facebook and share the symptoms with #OvarianCancerAwarenessMonth to help their work to make sure that every woman is diagnosed at the earliest possible stage.
Ovarian cancer can affect women of all backgrounds and ages. It has taken enough lives, and I think it is time to turn the tables and fight. Do not be frightened to get out there, get people talking and tell them to be aware of any changes in their bodies that aren’t quite right, no matter how small they think they might be. The louder we shout it out, the quicker we stamp it out. Please take time to watch this video.