I’m one of the lucky ones. Last week, thanks to the combined efforts of the wonderful staff at The Christie, Wythenshawe Hospital, and St John’s Medical Centre here in Altrincham, I successfully completed treatment for ovarian cancer.
And now, with March being Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, I want to tell others about how to recognise the symptoms of this “silent killer.”
There are about 7,000 new cases of ovarian cancer each year in the UK, and last September, I become one of them. Whilst I’m incredibly fortunate in my prognosis, tragically only 46% of women with the disease live five years or more, due in large part to how difficult it is to detect and diagnose. The survival rate is so distressingly low because, all too often, by the time a woman receives an accurate diagnosis, the cancer has advanced to Stage 3 or 4.
Why is this cancer so insidious? Because the symptoms – which include tummy or pelvic pain, feeling bloated, and loss of appetite – are a bit vague, they’re easily confused with IBS or other abdominal issues. What’s more, women are used to experiencing these symptoms to some extent each month, so we don’t often pay them much mind. Ovacome, an ovarian cancer support network, came up with this easy way to remember the signs to BEAT the disease.
B is for bloating that is persistent
E is for eating less and feeling full quickly
A is for abdominal pain
T is for telling your GP
There’s no reason to panic if you do have some of these symptoms occasionally. However, if these symptoms are persistent (lasting three weeks or more) or feel unusually severe, it’s time to see your GP. In my case, the lower abdominal pain could no longer be ignored – nor could my rapidly swelling belly, which caused me to look about seven months pregnant.
Fortunately, my excellent doctor at St John’s sent me straight to hospital last spring for an urgent ultrasound, and thus began nearly a year of hospital stays, major surgery and chemotherapy.
For my 50th birthday in November, I set up a JustGiving page to raise money for Target Ovarian Cancer, which works to educate and inform patients and physicians about the disease, with the aim of saving lives through earlier diagnosis.
I was proud and grateful to have raised more than £1000 – that’s enough to cover five days of medical research, or to provide training on ovarian cancer diagnosis to 200 GPs. There’s still so much work to be done on improving early detection and developing an accurate test for ovarian cancer. But with increased awareness, I’m hopeful we’ll start to see better outcomes.