Ovarian Cancer

Facing the future

After treatment many women enter a period of remission, which may last months or years. In some the cancer will recur (come back), but many respond to treatment even if their cancer recurs several times. However, sometimes further treatment (aimed at curing the cancer) is not possible. Doctors may then suggest treatments intended to prolong life and help to keep the person as well as possible for as long as possible. If no further treatments can be given to control the cancer, medicines can still be used to relieve symptoms that it causes (see 'Controlling the symptoms of advanced ovarian cancer'). Although people sometimes talk of being given a certain time to live no-one can reliably say how long someone with cancer will live. Even modern scans and x-rays can only support a guess, which can be wrong in either direction.

When asked how they saw their future, some women said they didn't think about it. One found it difficult to see a future while she was still having chemotherapy. Many women in remission felt sure they had been cured and tried to put their cancer experience behind them and get on with their lives. Some who were still being treated looked forward to a time when they could get their lives back to normal or make lifestyle changes (see 'Lifestyle and work changes'). 

Others accepted that the cancer might return but still hoped to survive for many years to come. Several hoped to live to see their grandchildren, and one woman in her forties hoped that it was not too late to return to college or find a husband. A woman in her mid-sixties had recently bought a 20-year holiday property time share. Others said they wanted to enjoy the time they had left or believed that the longer they survived the more likely it was that better treatments would be developed.

Because of their uncertain future many women found it difficult to plan more than a few weeks or months ahead. One didn't let this uncertainty stop her making plans; another whose cancer had been diagnosed at stage one twelve years ago said having cancer had not affected her long-term plans. A woman who was diagnosed five years ago had taken several 'last' holidays. Another, who knew she had little time left, planned to pack in lots of outings with family and friends in what time remained.

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Some women accepted that a point would come when no further treatment would be possible and they would die. One said she had never expected to be cured and had already survived much longer than she had expected. Another did not want a long lingering death or to be a burden to others, and hoped that euthanasia would be legalised in time for her death.

Some women had already faced the possibility of dying earlier during their illness. One had been told on diagnosis that she would probably only live two weeks, but had already survived more than two years. Another had said goodbye to her husband before a bowel bypass operation in case she didn't survive (see 'Controlling the symptoms of advanced ovarian cancer'). Another had spent two weeks in a coma after experimental chemotherapy (see 'Treatment complications'). One woman was taken aback to be asked where she wanted to end her days at what seemed to her a rather early stage in her care.

Many people find it very difficult to talk about death and the process of dying when it is happening either to themselves or to someone close to them. Friends and family sometimes try to prevent the person from 'being morbid', but some people who are dying want to be able to talk about it. Several women who knew their life would end soon had discussed it with family members. One had noticed that the Macmillan nurses and her doctor had begun to give her 'knowing looks' and to ask her different types of questions. Another had asked her doctors to explain how she would die.

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Some women had made practical preparations such as deciding where they wanted to die, making or updating their will, or planning the funeral. One woman who knew she was dying held a party to celebrate surviving five years but treated it as a pre-funeral party. Another woman was discussing with her family what to do with her body after her death. She wanted it used either in medical research or plastinated like those in the 'Body Works' art exhibition; her children had suggested having it cremated and the ashes scattered at sea. 



For information about organ or tissue donation in the UK see the NHS Organ Donor website.

Last reviewed June 2016.
Last updated June 2016.

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