OCAM - 'When mummy turned into an alien'… How a Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer Changed my World

01 March 2016

Diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer at 39 years old, mum of two, Jo Beagley, documents her day-to-day reality of living with a diagnosis and going through treatment.  She hopes her candid insights will help others affected by cancer and encourage people to seek medical opinion on any symptoms that are out of the ordinary, whilst raising awareness of ovarian cancer.

20 July 2014 

“The results are back Mrs Beagley … as we anticipated, its ovarian cancer” – the words I was desperately hoping not to hear, despite a gut feel that the news wouldn’t be good. Within seconds I lost the inability to process my thoughts, the inevitable anxieties were quick to take hold – “am I going to die/ when am I going to die?”, “my boys are going to grow up without a mother” to the more superficial – “I don’t want to lose my hair, not yet anyway, I only had it highlighted yesterday”.

What followed were days, weeks and months of anxiety as I slowly began to comprehend the diagnosis, with the treatment regime becoming my life for 18 months.  

Life before diagnosis

The summer of 2014 had started well … I’d taken part in the Knaresborough Bed Race, I’d been on a girls weekend to Spain, and just prior to the weekend I was admitted to hospital I’d basked in the euphoria that hit my hometown of Harrogate as Yorkshire welcomed the Tour de France in style – life was good.  

As a working mum of two boys, then aged 4 and 6 years, life was a hectic juggling act.  Between my husband Rob and I, we muddled through; aided by the project management skills I’d amassed in my 17 years in management consultancy. If things were on my radar and in plan we found a way; we coped with the unexpected, the inevitable coughs and colds that the boys picked up from nursery and school that meant we had to re-jig our work diaries and childcare arrangements. What we didn’t have a contingency plan for was a diagnosis of ovarian cancer completely out the blue. 

Why tell my story?

Ten months on from my diagnosis I had the urge to start writing, in part to get “stuff” out of my head, in part to try to articulate how a cancer diagnosis impacts on the family unit, but primarily in the hope my experience is helpful to others who find themselves having to adapt to life with cancer. 

Having read and reviewed several different books on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support, many of which were variations on cancer patients documenting their experiences, I had a compelling urge to start writing and knew immediately that I’d find the process of writing it down cathartic.  

I did pause to question what the point was in looking back since I had been open with family and friends around me, updating them on what had been going on.  But reading the experiences of other cancer patients (irrespective of the type of cancer they were battling with), demonstrated the value in sharing experiences; by reading them it helped me to normalise the feelings, emotions and anxieties in connection with the diagnosis and treatment.  Prior to embarking on chemo I had a fantastic pre meet with one of the oncology nurses where I was to receive my treatment, but it wasn’t a substitute for talking first hand with someone who had been through chemo. I was fortunate to have someone I could chat to, others may not, which is where accounts of this nature can be invaluable in helping to prepare mentally for what is around the corner and make them feel less isolated.  

As I’ve been told many times these past few months, cancer and the treatment regime affects everyone differently – this is my account of the last 18 months – what I’ve been through and how it’s made me feel.  It feels quite exposing to share such an emotional journey, but I’ve found those around me are better equipped to support if they know how I’m feeling, what helps and what I do/ don’t want to discuss.  

The other niggle I had was around what the boys would think if they read this when they were older – hopefully it will help them understand what mummy was going through, why they didn’t go on the much anticipated holiday to France in August 2014, why mummy became an ‘alien’ (and then a ‘boy’), why I probably snapped at them more that they deserved during my treatment and why screen time limits went out of the window on occasion when I just didn’t have the energy to negotiate. It will also help them realise what a big part they continue to play in helping me through it – their humour, their cuddles, their matter of fact-ness and the incessant chatter/ questions to keep my mind from going into dark places. 

In writing this I’m not looking for sympathy or heroism, I hope it will aid others living or supporting those with cancer and encourage people to consult their doctor in the event of any symptoms that are out of the ordinary.  

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