In April 2015 my life changed forever when I lost my mum to ovarian cancer at just 54 years old. She left behind her husband, three daughters, three step-daughters, a step-son, six grandchildren and many other family and friends. The scariest thought is that her ovaries had been removed two years earlier and she had regular check-ups. It was only in February when her tumour was found and just six weeks later, on the 20th April, she sadly passed away surrounded by her husband, daughters and sister.
Ovarian cancer is as menacing as any other cancer, but because it lies on the lining and can lay dormant even once the ovaries have been removed as part of or after a hysterectomy, it means it can be difficult to spot. I had a total hysterectomy at aged 32 as my mum had begged me during her final days. I had the surgery just weeks after she died. Even though my ovaries were healthy, she wanted me to have them removed to protect me and my children’s future. When it takes hold, it can become aggressive very quickly and the tumour can grow at an horrific rate. We were all naive to this. When she went to hospital that day, admitted with breathing problems, to leave two days later with a terminal cancer diagnosis we were all devastated, heartbroken and fell apart. It is known as the silent killer and so many people are unaware of the symptoms.
In 2016 there were 4,227 deaths due to ovarian cancer, and only a 35% survival rate for 10 or more years. In 2015, the year we lost my mum, 7,270 new cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed according to Cancer Research UK and only 11% were preventable, so there is little that can be done to not only cure, but to prevent or spot the illness any earlier.
Symptoms include feeling constantly bloated, a swollen tummy, discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area, feeling full quickly when eating, loss of appetite, and needing to pee more often or more urgently than normal, but of course these symptoms can be something completely different or nothing serious at all.
I want to encourage all women to share the symptoms of ovarian cancer. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to reduce the amount of women who could suffer in this way. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what my sisters and I went through, losing my mum at such a young age and if it helps someone identify a problem just a few weeks earlier, then it’s worth it.
I still think of ourselves as lucky as we managed to spend the last few weeks of her life telling her how much we loved her and I know most people don’t get that opportunity. Life can be snatched away without any notice and I will always be grateful that I was with her, telling her how much we’d miss her as she peacefully passed. There is a hole in my heart, that even after three years has not gone away and is as empty as the day I said goodbye.