Surely something as big as the dreaded ‘C-word’ would give some hints that it was lurking, especially as it turns out that it may have been unknowingly part of my life since early in 2013. It was an umbilical hernia that gave me any inkling something was awry. Several years previous I’d had the hernia repaired following my second pregnancy and it hadn’t bothered me since. After a full day walking round the Great Yorkshire Show, I noticed the hernia had popped out again and the next day I contacted my GP surgery to make an appointment to discuss another repair. It was only then I clocked that I’d felt slightly bloated over the few weeks prior and was intermittently experiencing a dull abdominal pain, but I put it to the back of my mind and told myself it would probably sort itself out in the next week or so.
Over the next few days the pain became a continual discomfort and I faced up to the fact something wasn’t right. Becoming increasingly concerned I called ‘111’ over the weekend and got a referral to the out of hours doctor at Harrogate District Hospital, who examined me and admitted me with an unexplained abdominal mass and pain.
Not a great deal happened for the first 36 hours. I was kept under observation and felt a bit of a fraud taking up a hospital bed since the pain was manageable provided I rested. Having had an ultrasound scan the radiologist referred me for an urgent MRI scan. The next morning I was told I was having some blood tests. The healthcare professionals clearly had their suspicions at this stage but I was oblivious. It was only when I pressed for information the following day that a junior consultant advised my tumour marker levels were raised. When I finally saw a senior consultant she explained the CA125 test and hinted at a potential tumour (elevated levels of a protein called CA125 are commonly associated with ovarian tumours). It was only when I was discharged pending a follow up consultation, armed with a letter to take to my doctor, that I discovered my CA125 results were off the scale compared to a normal range. On learning of the results Rob immediately went on the internet and knew the outcome wasn’t looking good, but I clung to the hope the test was not always accurate. The fact my case was due to be discussed at the next MDT (multi-disciplinary team) meeting only heightened the anxiety – I immediately concluded that if I warranted discussion at such a meeting, then the condition was deemed to be ‘complex’.
Processing the diagnosis
Looking back (with the benefit of counselling), news of the diagnosis triggered a complete loss of control and certainty, a feeling that not everything is as it seems and a realisation that decisions are going to have to be made without full information. I distinctly remember a discussion with my manager at work in one of my performance appraisals about the challenges I had in dealing with uncertainty – learning of my diagnosis highlighted that for sure, although I’m well aware it’s not a challenge that’s unique to me in such circumstances. Whilst trying to process the enormity of being diagnosed, even the smallest, everyday decisions became a source of anxiety - I couldn’t even think what to cook for dinner. The sense of being overwhelmed was magnified by the emotional drain of processing the diagnosis and the anxiety around what treatment lay ahead (if indeed treatment was an option).
I never lingered on the ‘unfairness’ aspect of the diagnosis – the way I saw it, ovarian cancer, nor any major illness, is fair on anyone. I’ve been dealt the card and it’s up to me what I chose to do with it. My choice … I’m playing on, I may not get rid of the card but I’ll do all I can within my control to stay in the game and make the most of life whilst I’m at it.
From the outset I’ve been determined to adopt a positive outlook, accepting there’ll be times when I’ll wobble, but on the whole I’m going to be a fighter and cancer’s not going to get the better of me.