Samantha, aged 50, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after pushing for tests from her GP. She shares her story.
I reached out to the GP after having experienced mild symptoms for a good year or two and they ran some tests. They told me to come back in 6 months and see how I was getting on. I just put my symptoms down to the pandemic and having to stay indoors for such a long period of time.
But 6 months went by, and I went back as nothing had changed. They didn’t think I needed further tests or medication, but I knew something wasn’t right. They finally did some blood tests, but nothing came up. It was at this point they agreed that they would put me on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). As soon as I started taking the medication, I had the typical symptoms, headaches included, but I also started experiencing some abdominal pain.
I was getting really bad stomach-ache and thought maybe the medication wasn’t for me, so I rang my doctor, and luckily they said that the side effects didn’t sound right. I was told to come in that day and as soon as she actually put her hands on my stomach she could feel something wasn’t right. I was told to go to A&E straight away.
I was convinced I had thyroids and then they thought it could be a hernia. I felt like I could be wasting everyone’s time. They arranged for a CT scan and the doctor spoke to me shortly after to tell me they found a large cyst on my ovaries and that there was some shadowing mass behind it. I tried to ignore that word ‘shadowing.’ It was too scary. I convinced myself it was cyst on my ovaries, that they would treat it, and everything would be fine. I was trying to make it less scary.
They kept me in overnight and the surgeon came and asked me what I knew. That’s when they confirmed it was a tumour, on both my ovaries. He kept using the word ‘disease’ and I asked if it was cancer. I could see it in his eyes – I cried a lot that night from disbelief and shock. The next day I tried to downplay what was wrong, I didn’t want to admit it to anyone. But when my husband came to visit, and the surgeon came over, the penny started to drop with him.
At this point they told me I would likely need surgery and that the cancer had spread to my abdomen. I was told they would need to take out my whole reproductive system and some of my right colon. I could eventually end up having to have a stoma, but if that was the case, it could be reversable. There was a lot of information to take in.
A few days went by, and I got my final diagnosis. It was cancer, but low grade and the outcome was positive. At this point I started to relax a little.
A month later, the cancer had spread to my whole colon, and so I had surgery and woke up with a stoma. I immediately started worrying about how it would change my entire life. I don’t think people realise the whole impact cancer has. Not just the physical cancer; but the mental and emotional effects too. Having a stoma is not something you prepare for; it changed my identity. It was as if I was living in a changed body and had to get to know that again.
“I didn’t really have a chance to process what happened until 2 months after. In hindsight, it was like I was hit by a bus and then got up and went to work the next day. It wasn’t until after my treatment when I had some space to mentally process everything that the true impact of what happened hit me.”
After some research, I found Penny Brohn UK through a Facebook group and I signed up to their Treatment Support Programme. My GP said that even just by being in this group, even if we didn’t do anything, we were taking some control just by attending – that was empowering. Something about that shifted my attitude and mindset. I went from feeling like a victim and sad, to feeling that there are things I can do to make myself feel better. Having that realisation that I can do something to help myself has made a huge difference. I have since accessed numerous online sessions, and also received 1:1 nutritional advice.
“It started to feel liberating to talk about ’embarrassing things’; my body confidence, my stoma. Penny Brohn UK made me feel at ease, that I could talk about these things with others who are also having a hard time.”
On of the best tips I got was to name my stoma! I called her Adele, after the BBC Radio 1 host who was also going through a cancer treatment and has a stoma.
My aim in life now is to remain as proactive as possible. I hope to qualify as a psychotherapist in the next 2 years, I want to spend quality time with my husband and be grateful for the life I have. I don’t want to waste time on petty things, I want to focus on what matters. There is always the fear, of it coming back and I don’t think that will ever go away.
It’s tempting when you go through something like this to self-isolate. On the one hand it’s great to have support and having love and attention when you aren’t used to it all at once, but it can also be overwhelming. I’m lucky my husband and I have a great support network around us. Not just for me, but for him as well, as he went through a lot too.
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