One woman dies of ovarian cancer every two hours in the UK.
Sarah Passby, 52, had the typical signs of ovarian cancer, but had no idea what they meant until she was diagnosed with the disease, months later.
‘I started having symptoms about a year before I was diagnosed,’ said Sarah.
‘It was the usual, absolute textbook symptoms; bloating, feeling full, frequent trips to the toilet, pain … All of the symptoms were persistent.’
She explained that each time she visited the GP, she was given a different diagnosis:
‘They thought it was menopause so they put me on hormone replacement therapy (HRP). Then they thought it was IBS, then appendicitis, then a bladder infection.’
After nearly a year of being in pain and not feeling like herself, Sarah ended up in A&E:
‘It was then I went back to the GP, broke down and said: “I can’t do this anymore.”
Sarah had a CA125 blood test (CA125 is a substance produced by some ovarian cancer cells, and high levels can indicate ovarian cancer).
She was then given the devastating news that she had ovarian cancer.
‘I never ever gave cancer a thought’
‘It happened quite quickly. It was a bit of a shock,’ said Sarah.
‘Initially, I did think it was menopause and I’d also had a bladder operation two years previously, so I thought it was maybe the bladder problems again.
‘I never ever gave cancer a thought, I hadn’t even really heard of ovarian cancer, naively.’
Even though cancer hadn’t crossed Sarah’s mind, one symptom in particular did seem strange:
‘I think the bloating was probably the main symptom, and the pain, because you look like you’re about 4/5 months pregnant and it doesn’t go away.
‘I had a scan which showed a 11cm tumour coming out of my ovaries and I had a few little tumours on the lining of my tummy so all the bloating made sense.’
Once diagnosed, Sarah was booked in to have an operation on 17 May 2016.
Living with ovarian cancer
‘I will be honest. Your immediate thought is “I’m not going to survive this”, especially when I did start Googling ovarian cancer, and obviously statistics are not great.
‘But actually, once I’d had the operation and treatment started, I was fine. I never got upset about it, I just thought I’ve got cancer, come on, get through it, move on.
‘Because once you’ve been diagnosed, you can’t change that, so I didn’t feel there was any point getting upset and worrying.’
Sarah always made sure she put on a brave face around her family, as she didn’t want to upset or worry them.
Sarah finished her chemotherapy just before Christmas 2016. Her most recent scan showed that, as far as they could see, she was thankfully in the clear.
‘Listen to your body’
As part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Sarah is asking mums not to neglect their health – no matter how busy they are:
‘I think as mums and as women, you do leave your health to the last. You make sure that everyone else goes to the doctors, you make sure everyone else is eating healthily, and you do put yourself on the backburner.
‘I just want people to not have it as their last thought.’
‘Listen to your body. I just think women are very intuitive. I think you know when something is not right, and I think if you feel that way, you must persist with your GP.’
For Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, the charity Ovarian Cancer Action is calling all women to #OvaryAct and look out for the symptoms– 90% of women are unaware of what to look out for.
Always get checked if you’re worried.
The symptoms to look out for
Surgeon and researcher at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Center, Dr Christina Fotopoulou, said the symptoms of ovarian cancer can often be difficult to pinpoint, and are often mistaken for other symptoms.
But she said regular experience of the following could be a symptom of ovarian cancer:
• Persistent bloating
• Persistent stomach pain
• Finding it difficult to eat or feeling full quickly
• Needing to wee more often
Other symptoms you may notice include:
• Back pain
• Changes in your bowel habits
• Feeling tired all the time
If you’re worried about any of these symptoms, speak to your GP.