For seven months from the beginning of 2009 I experienced uncharacteristic tiredness, weight loss and increasing pain. Stomach ulcers were finally diagnosed. Several months later, despite repeated tests showing that my ulcers cleared I still felt dreadfully ill with the symptoms persisting.
I went for my annual check-up with my gynaecologist. He could not find anything untoward and recommended a scan and a blood test. While the scan was clear, my blood results indicated a marginally raised CA125 level. CA125 is a protein that is normally found at highly raised levels in women with ovarian cancer. Blood tests are one of the few methods we currently have for detecting the disease. A normal level is 35 and mine read 47.
My gynaecologist advised it was probably a false positive and I should have a second test. A second test indicated a further increase, albeit a very small one. This test showed a CA125 reading of 69. It was recommended that I have my ovaries taken out as a precaution.
My results had shown only moderate increases in my CA125 levels, yet when the gynaecologist began to operate, to his shock, he discovered my ovaries were riddled with cancer. Worse, the cancer had already spread to my colon.
My gynaecologist immediately called in a team of specialists to help him perform what turned into a long and complicated 7.5 hour operation to remove my cancer. My condition was so serious that the hospital staff began calling family from around the world before I had even left the operating theatre.
Depression, self-pity, blame – these were not words that entered my mind – I was determined to focus on my recovery and to reduce my emotional pain without medication.
There was no time to ponder about why this happened to me. I knew that I had to take each day at a time and deal with whatever complication reared its head.
Initially, I dismissed the chemotherapy treatments prescribed as I was not prepared to spend my remaining months enduring the side effects. After consulting my oncologist, I re-thought my decision and decided to take every opportunity to increase my life span.
The loss of my blonde hair was the least of my concerns in my fight to recover. The chemotherapy was lengthy and did not end as swiftly as I would have liked.
In the chemotherapy room one encounters many happy stories and many sad stories but the superb care and kindness shown to all the patients by the highly skilled staff overcomes all the gloom.
Unfortunately in 2011 ductal cancer of the breast was diagnosed that required a lumpectomy plus 5 weeks of radiation treatments. During the same year this was followed by the discovery of cancer in the para aortic lymph node requiring additional radiation treatments.
In 2012 my ovarian cancer had recurred with spread of metastases to the liver and the peritoneum. Several hours of complicated surgery by remarkable surgeons, all experts in their fields, resulted in the removal of my gall bladder, a large liver resection, removal of more of the colon and debulking of the peritoneal tumours.
Thereafter I endured 6 months of chemotherapy treatments and this time did not lose my hair.
In 2013 new tumours re-appeared in the peritoneal, however, I was grateful that the liver was clear. I was placed on a clinical trial, less invasive than chemotherapy, with similar though milder side effects.
This clinical trial treatment exemplifies the advances that the researchers have made towards finding new cures for ovarian cancer. This is indeed hopeful.
2014 saw a deterioration in my condition resulting from an increase in the size of the para aortic tumour deposits. A visit to my wonderful surgeon who had operated on me in 2013 resulted in surgery scheduled to remove the tumour. Unfortunately the surgery was unsuccessful and the tumour could not be removed due to the close proximity to major organs.
Chemotherapy treatments were the only option. I lost my hair once again and the side effects impacted on my general health due to the hectic chemo drug accumulating in my body.
Six months of treatments have now concluded. My oncologist and myself are currently working on a “chemo holiday” for an unspecified time.
My personal goal is to take one day at a time, to remain positive and optimistic about my future and to lead a healthy lifestyle free of stress. I am by nature a positive person and so I remain optimistic.
I hope that my positive outcome so far will motivate women to join in the fight against all gynaecological cancers. We are stronger together.
I salute all my fellow gynaecological cancer patients that have fought and are fighting the diseases.
It is with deep sadness and heavy hearts that the Australian Gynaecological Cancer Foundation announce the passing of Merle Finkel, a Founder and Director of the AGCF. Merle passed away on 22 January 2016 after a courageous battle with Ovarian Cancer.
Read more about ovarian cancer.