Gabrielle Harris is 46 and from Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire. She is an ambassador for the charity Target Ovarian Cancer and blogs about her experience living with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
Right up until October 2014 I lived happily with my gorgeous husband Simon, my two beautiful children Tabitha and Jolyon and our beloved rescue greyhound, Daphne. Life was good - there was perhaps room for a tweak here and there - but with running my own bespoke cowhide furniture business, looking after two children, housework, cooking and let's not forget having fun, I didn't have time to even try and make it better.
By October 2014 there was one thing in my life that I could no longer ignore. My bloated tummy. I was quite sure it was nothing sinister as I'd read about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and they also included loss of appetite and needing to wee more and I hadn't noticed either and anyway I was 45, far too young. The internet told me you were most likely to get ovarian cancer if you were over 50, obese, hadn't had children, hadn't taken the pill, hadn't breast fed and they even mentioned being tall as a possible contributing factor. I am a diminutive 5ft 2ins, and it seemed I was safe on every count.
Three days are seeing my GP it was confirmed that I had high grade, advanced stage III ovarian cancer. One week later I started my course of 18 chemotherapies. I was to have one every week, punctuated half way through with a major operation including a full hysterectomy as well as the removal of the cancer that had survived the chemo. That was the plan anyway. We were warned that sometimes microscopic bits got left behind and that was why after the op I would continue with more chemotherapy.
Straight after the operation
Of course the burning question for me was the long term prognosis. I was told that with the stage my cancer had reached there was an 85% chance that my cancer would come back and it would then be incurable - but they would manage it for as long as possible. Devastating to say the least.
Within a couple of weeks I had sold my business and I was spending the extra time this gave me with my children and husband. Less money but spending more time with them - priceless.
The first session of chemo was a bit of an anticlimax. They connected me to the drip and we watched in horror as the poison began to slowly drip into me - but the fact was I couldn't feel a thing so we had no option but to carry on chatting and order lunch.
In fact I sailed through all the chemos. I ducked nearly all the potential side effects; sickness, pins and needles in hands and toes, aching joints and hair loss. Well nearly all the side effects. I was as bald as a coot after a month! It's not great being bald - but it's not horrendous either, I suppose it's somewhere in the middle. My advice would be dig deep and own it. The wigs are amazing but can be uncomfortable. If you're bald people do look at you but not to be mean, they feel sad for you. That's okay - I feel a bit sad for me.
After my last chemo I had nine fabulous months of being cancer free, it hadn't been all bad having cancer, my friends and family made me feel felt like a movie star most of the time, I was wrapped in love and spoiled beyond belief but of course being without cancer and being here for my children was all I really wanted.
At my third checkup I was told the devastating news that my cancer had returned. This time operating was not an option so I'm now back on chemotherapy. There is some good news which is that there is less chance of hair loss with my new drugs. The bad news is I have to wear a cold cap which has taken all the fun out of chemo. It should be called a freezing cap!
So here I go again, first time round I remained upbeat all the way through but it's been a bit tougher this time. At times I am paralysed with fear at the thought of not being here for my children - but for the most part I manage to try and see my cancer as a gift, an unwanted gift for sure, but a gift nevertheless. Every bit of life is precious, I cherish even the ordinary moments and I make damn sure that I'm living my life to the best of my ability making it as fun as I possibly can. After all, if life gives you lemons, you simply have to find someone whose life gave them vodka - and have a party.
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.