My name is Ali. I live in the glorious Cotswolds in a beautiful town called Stroud. My life had just got to the point where it was turning around. My Womble-resembling dog Madam Cholet (Maddy for short) and I were rising early and walking at least five miles before work every day. At work, I had just started to train to be a solicitor (which at 36 was long overdue) and I couldn't have been happier.
Then the pain started. In August last year I started to feel this blinding pain in my pelvis. It would be around the time of my period - which had always been incredibly painful. I remember going home and telling my partner Darren and that it might get worse as I got older. Darren was furious because the GPs had told me there was nothing wrong and should just get on with it. I remember sulking because he kept making me going back to the doctors so regularly - but now I can never thank him enough for his persistence.
After ruling out bladder infections, IBS, indigestion and appendicitis I was sent for an ultrasound where a 10cm complex cyst was identified. Then it all seemed to go crazy for a little while - calls from GPs and endless hospital appointments.
I had severe endometriosis as well as the cyst and it was recommended I have a full hysterectomy. Three consultants told me they were confident it was not cancerous but would proceed as if it might be. I was so certain that I was not the sort of person that would get cancer it never crossed my mind.
Over the next few weeks I became increasingly ill. I now know I was experiencing other common symptoms of ovarian cancer. I felt bloated and tired all the time. Maddy and I were only managing a mile or so in the morning.
My dog Maddy
So there I sat, the day after my operation, contemplating why the promised 4-inch scar was almost eight inches long (but relieved I had not woken up with the expected colostomy bag), when I was told about the cancer in the cyst. I always thought if I was told I had cancer it would be like the world had fallen apart. But I just said "Right ok, has it all gone? Yes, great, when I can I get out of here - the food's terrible!" Looking back I think my positive reaction might have been aided somewhat by the pain medication.
I was caught at the earliest stage - 1a - but the tumour was grade 3, so a more serious form. This means I have had to have preventative chemotherapy. I am just over halfway through. One of my biggest concerns was that I might fall behind on my study to become a solicitor, so I was thrilled to still be able to do exams after my first session of chemotherapy. Each time it gets a little harder, though. A few days after one of my sessions David Bowie died. I couldn't believe it when I read the news and that he had written, recorded and produced an album while he was sick.
I have been asked a few times how I felt about the idea of not being able to have children, but that had never been on the cards for me. I have two wonderful step-children (22 year old twins) and that is more than I could hope for. What I didn't properly consider was how hard the menopause was going to be. My cancer was oestrogen-dependent so no HRT for me - and yes, hot flushes are as awful as your mother said!
I hadn't allowed myself to consider it was cancer - and then when it was all gone I wouldn't allow myself to be down. I had been lucky and so many others hadn't. My nurses explained to me that so many women are not caught so early. I knew the symptoms of breast cancer and testicular cancer but I had barely heard of ovarian cancer. That is wrong. Men and women need to know the symptoms so we can all work together to help catch it early.
I was asked if I had a tip. It is this - own it. If you want to cry over a Christmas tree then you go ahead (that is one of the two times I have cried - the other was over a badly made cup of tea). But if you want to just get on, then don't let anyone tell you that is wrong either.
I wish I had space to tell you about all the incredible people I have met on this journey, the positivity and fight you get to experience in the oncology centre. The kindness and generosity people you barely know will show you. But I am afraid I don't - so I hope you enjoyed reading my story.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
- Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain (that's your tummy and below)
- Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating - not bloating that comes and goes
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual
Occasionally there can be other symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, extreme fatigue (feeling very tired), unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite. Any post-menopausal bleeding should always be investigated by a GP. You can find out more information at www.targetovariancancer.org.uk.
Ali Coates is 36 and from Stroud in Gloucestershire. She is an ambassador for the charity Target Ovarian Cancer and blogs here about her experience living with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
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