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CANCER WOMEN SURVIVORS IN AUSTRALIA TELL THEIR STORY

Women who had overcame cancer

FOUR women who overcame ovarian cancer discuss their conditions & experiences.


One in 77 Australian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime. A pap smear does not detect ovarian cancer. There is no early detection test for the disease. Only knowing and identifying the symptoms can aid in early detection that can save lives. Symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full, lethargic and a change in bowel or urine habits. Diagnosis can only be confirmed at point of surgery and treatment involves surgery and chemotherapy. Speak to your GP or visit ovariancancer.net.au for more details. These brave women share their ovarian cancer journeys.

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Elise Pratt, 24, Gladstone, Qld

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Lethargic for weeks, I also felt like I had constant period pain. An ultrasound revealed a cyst the size of a grapefruit on one of my ovaries. Doctors said it would go away by itself. Six weeks later in April 2009 the cramps became debilitating.

Doctors at the Mater Hospital in Rockhampton did a CT scan and this time they found a tumour the size of a football on my ovary, unrelated to the cyst. My gynaecologist sent my results to a specialist in Brisbane who called me in for surgery. The surgeon warned me that when they opened me up they may have to do a hysterectomy. It was a shock, though aged 22, and at uni, I wasn’t thinking about children yet.

During that operation they removed the tumour, one ovary, a fallopian tube, omentum, which is the fatty part around the bowel, and some lymph nodes. A biopsy revealed I had stage 3 ovarian germ cell cancer, an aggressive form. Two weeks later I began four cycles of chemotherapy which lasted until August 2009. Despite losing my hair, I ate well and kept fit. In February 2010 at a regular check up, doctors thought I had relapsed and operated to remove my other fallopian tube and half of my remaining ovary.

Both were found to be cancer-free. I can no longer have children naturally and may go into early menopause. I’m having IVF to freeze my embryos. Adoption isn’t an option as I have a pre-existing medical condition. Ovarian cancer isn’t hereditary but I’ve told my sisters and all my friends to listen to their bodies. Ovarian cancer is more common than you think and the symptoms are hard to recognise.

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Meghan Speers, 34, Bentleigh, Vic

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With a swollen belly and stomach aches, I only really became concerned when I missed my menstrual cycle. I was single, 29, and living in London in 2006. A doctor tested me and said I was six weeks and four days pregnant. I told them that wasn’t possible and insisted on more tests. A gynaecologist then did an internal ultrasound.

After two more ultrasounds they diagnosed a fallopian tube blockage and said they needed to operate right away. When I came round they had removed my right ovary as it was 98 per cent tumour. “Will I be able to have kids?” was the first question I asked and doctors assured me I still could. A week later, the biopsy revealed I had dysgermanoma, a rare germ cell tumour, and would need further surgery as it had spread. I flew back to my home in Hobart and had two further surgeries to remove my fallopian tube, cancer cells off my bowel and a suspect lymph node. After that I had nine weeks of intensive chemo.

I suffered nausea and headaches and I lost my hair. It was frightening. I thought only older people got cancer. By February 2007 I was able to go back to work in Melbourne. In April 2007 a tumour was removed from my left ovary and part of that ovary was frozen. Not long after that I met my now husband and we’re both grateful that having children is an option for us. I’ve learnt when you know in your heart something is wrong, you owe it to yourself to get to the bottom of it.

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Sandra Anderson, 47, Bridgeman Downs, Qld

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A close friend of mine had ovarian cancer and I looked after her kids while she had chemotherapy. Still, I didn’t connect the dots when five years later in 2005 I started suffering from tiredness, bloating and what felt like dragging on my right side of my abdomen. A busy mum to three boys, I ignored the symptoms until two colleagues blocked my door at work and bullied me into going to see a doctor.

My GP did an ultrasound and said I had a tumour so sent me off to a gynaecologist. There I had a CT scan and was told I had a benign teratoma, or ovarian cyst, the size of a five-month-old foetus. I had surgery to remove it and two days later was told it was ovarian cancer and they would need to perform a radical hysterectomy. I was shocked.

They removed my appendix, parts of my bowel, both ovaries and both fallopian tubes. Pathology revealed I was only 1C, the mildest form of cancer, but I’m glad they removed it all anyway. I’m blessed to already have my children. I was terribly ill throughout my six months of chemo but am pleased to announce I am now in remission. I owe my colleagues my life. Women today are so busy we ignore the signs – don’t! It could cost you your life.

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Suzanne Angelis, 42, Darwin, NT

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Training for an ocean swim for my 40th birthday, I became tired and lost weight but I put that down to all the exercise. After the swim in 2008, I was violently ill, and the weight loss and fatigue continued for months. I also had hot and cold flushes, sweating, diarrhoea and swollen breasts. My doctor did a pap smear and declared me healthy. It wasn’t until tragedy struck my family and I lay on the couch grieving that I realised my belly was so swollen I looked pregnant.

A new GP sent me for an ultrasound followed by a CA125 blood test, which is a tumour marker, and a CT scan. The results all showed that I had a large tumour and would need surgery but they couldn’t do it in Darwin. I left behind my teenaged children and flew to Brisbane to have a radical hysterectomy. I was later told it was stage 3 ovarian cancer which had spread to the lymph system. For the next seven months I flew between Brisbane and Darwin for aggressive IP chemotherapy.

It was gruelling and I became depressed as I was lonely in Brisbane without my family. Luckily, I found a charity coffee shop where I volunteered and they helped me through my darkest days. There are some things you can’t talk to your loved ones about as you don’t want to scare them. When I was told the cancer was gone I felt like I could breathe normally again. I still have regular checks. Don’t ignore the little symptoms and never put your own health to one side. Busy mums need to look after themselves too. After all, you can’t be a good mum if you’re not around.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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