After struggling with weight loss for many years, despite changing my eating habits and exercising, I was unable to lose weight, especially around my stomach. In 2018, I started intense personal training and began yet another diet to try and lose weight, as my husband and I were starting to think about beginning our family and I wanted to be as healthy as I could to care for my child.
As the year passed, I shed quite a bit of weight, however it would not budge from my abdomen. As a teacher, I was always on my feet and would regularly have to sit down as I had a great deal of back pain. Almost daily, people would ask me “When are you due?”, which broke my heart because I wanted nothing more than to be pregnant, but it just wasn’t happening. I never really had a regular menstrual cycle either, which made it even trickier when trying to become pregnant.
I had visited my family doctor of 14 years at least five times, regarding the irregular menstrual cycles, pain in my back and general health and inability to shift the weight. I was told by this doctor that I was just bloated, to try taking charcoal tablets and to continue trying to eat healthy and exercise. I asked for an ultrasound to which my doctor replied, “What for?”. I knew it was time for me to seek a second opinion.
I made an appointment with a new GP at a different clinic, where she promptly sent me off for a range of scans and tests. I went off and had blood tests and a CT scan and the very next day received a phone call to come into the clinic to discuss my results.
The CT scan showed what my Doctor described as a dinner plate sized mass in my abdomen. She asked me to go home and pack an overnight bag, as she has spoken to Dr Deborah Neesham, who was a Gynaecological Oncologist at The Royal Women’s Hospital. My GP explained that she may admit me that day.
I went home and cried while my mum and husband packed my overnight bag. “I have never had anything medical go wrong, what was happening to me?” I wondered. My mum and husband came with me to the appointment and my mum, being a nurse, scribbled down notes as Dr Neesham explained what was going on. I had a large cystic mass in my abdomen and until they operated, they were unable to tell exactly what it was. She told me I needed to finish up work for the year, as I would have quite an extensive recovery after the procedure.
Two days later, I went into Frances Perry House at the Royal Women’s Hospital. I was wheeled into the operating theatre and operated on. Dr Neesham found a 26kg ovarian cyst on my left ovary, which had caused my stomach to look the way it did. The cyst and my left ovary were removed. The cyst contained 2 lumps, which looked like tumours. They were biopsied and a few weeks later I received the news that they were in fact ovarian cancer. Thankfully, the tumours were contained within the cyst, and it had not spread anywhere else, meaning I didn’t need any other treatment, other than regular PET scans.
When I first heard the word cancer it was certainly a shock, but I also felt anger. Anger at my previous doctor for not investigating things further, and in turn, allowing things to get to such a serious state.
Since my diagnosis, I have been sure to trust my instincts more, particularly when it comes to my health. Finding a new GP, that I feel comfortable and confident with, is extremely reassuring and helps me to know that my health is in the best hands.
My diagnosis was the push that got us thinking more about starting our family. I had always wanted to be a mother and when I received my diagnosis, I wasn’t sure if this would ever happen for me. Three years after my diagnosis, my husband and I were blessed to find out that we were expecting our first baby! After everything we had been through, to find out that our dreams were about to come true, was life changing. In August 2022, our son Dominic was born. I am so thankful every day for this miracle in our life.
If I was to offer advice for someone going through their own cancer journey, it would be to lean on loved ones. Family and friends that are there for you can make a world of difference in how you feel and process what is happening. If you have any questions or concerns during your journey, call your doctor or specialist and make the appointment to ask questions. The last thing you need is to be worrying about more of the unknown.
I wish more people knew the signs and symptoms of the various types of gynaecological cancers, without having to go down the google rabbit hole. More awareness and information need to be widely available.
We are the Australian Gynaecological Cancer Foundation. The only organisation that focuses on funding laboratory research into all eight gynae cancers.
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