Jo was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in July 2014, aged 39. She has since undergone a hysterectomy and treatment with chemotherapy and an angiogenesis inhibitor drug with the aim of keeping the cancer managed. Through genetic testing, Jo discovered she carries the BRCA1 gene mutation which presents a higher than normal risk of breast cancer.
As a working mum with two young boys living in Harrogate, she continues to share her experience of diagnosis, going through treatment and living with an incurable cancer for Yorkshire Cancer Research to help raise awareness of ovarian cancer and to help others navigating similar experiences.
Facing up to a Recurrence
The relief turned out to be short lived. In June 2017 my oncologist referred me for a CT scan given that my tumour marker indicator (assessed through regular blood tests) was most definitely trending upwards albeit it was still in the range that is considered ‘normal’ for some people. Thankfully I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms which felt mildly comforting ahead of receiving the scan results. I tried to put the anxiety of the scan results to the back of my mind, helped by the fact I’d agreed to take part in the Great Yorkshire Bike Ride that weekend allowing me to enjoy the 72 miles pedal from Wetherby to Filey in glorious sunshine.
A week later in my follow up appointment I learnt that my ovarian cancer was active again. This time it didn’t come as a complete surprise as it was always probable it would be back at some point. Having gone almost 3 years since my initial diagnosis I was increasingly hoping that I might be one that defied the odds, but confirmation of a relapse quickly brought back home that I was living with a cancer that needed managing. The prospect of treatment felt less daunting, after all I’d navigated that previously, I was keen to get going and find out what it meant for the next few months ahead.
As my case needed to be discussed at a multi-disciplinary team meeting I had to wait another 8 days before I knew what lay in store. Again I found that wait incredibly tough – contemplating what lay ahead, whether it would be surgery, more chemo or more worryingly whether the options were potentially exhausted. After hearing the devastating news of the relapse and starting to come to terms with it, the next appointment felt considerably better – I had confirmation of my treatment plan and a date was already booked in for me to have a port implanted and then to have my first dose of chemo. I was keen to get cracking with treatment but with a couple of holidays planned in the following weeks (one with girlfriends to Spain for a long weekend and a family holiday to France) and the long school holidays looming, the timing was far from ideal. I discussed the viability of travelling with my oncologist who helpfully outlined the risks and issues to consider. It was evident that if I wanted to get going with my treatment then holiday plans were going to have to be put on hold.
I was prescribed the same chemo regime that I had had previously, it worked well for me before and I’d navigated the side affects already. It was a relief to know what was happening and when. Updating family and friends is never easy, but was so much easier with a definitive treatment plan in place.
If the chemo is successful in getting my cancer managed again then the plan is for me to take the drug Olaparib (also known as Lynparza) which is a PARP inhibitor targeted at those with a BRCA gene mutation. Lynparza was discovered at the University of Sheffield with funding from Yorkshire Cancer Research, and I’ve followed its development with interest. Having had involvement in the creation of the Yorkshire & Humberside Genomic Medicine Centre as a patient representative, it now feels pertinent that targeted therapy may be relevant for my own illness given my gene mutation.