Interview 110

Ovarian cancer diagnosed in 1994 following tiredness, pain, nausea and vomiting. Treated with bowel surgery then chemotherapy. Recurrence treated by chemotherapy prior to surgical removal of ovaries and womb. Second recurrence treated by more chemotherapy.

She was 56, working full time and feeling very tired, but attributed this to her age. She also had a feeling of fullness in her abdomen. She made an appointment to see her GP and that day she experienced pain and vomiting. It was unclear whether this was due to a stomach bug or something else, and her GP referred her to a consultant. While waiting for the appointment date she felt increasingly unwell, but tests conducted came back clear and she was signed off work for two weeks to recuperate. She stayed with a friend who called the doctor out a number of times as she continued to be unwell. She started to keep a record of her symptoms to show the consultant. An ultrasound scan was inconclusive and a laparoscopy was arranged to investigate her stomach. However, her symptoms worsened and she was operated on. Part of her colon and one ovary were removed and a hysteroscopy conducted. She was told that she had ovarian cancer and would be started on chemotherapy. She found it very difficult to take this all in, and it took a while before she could say out loud that she had cancer. Her family has a history of cancer but they did not speak openly about it. She experienced a variety of emotions, including anger at her body letting her down, despair, and feeling she lacked control. She found reading from a Bible in the hospital gave her comfort, and the support of her friends and family throughout has been invaluable.

Before her first course of chemotherapy she was asked if she would like to participate in a trial, but said no as she wanted her oncologist to choose the most appropriate treatment. Carboplatin made her very sick but was successful, and she was extremely pleased to return to work. Eighteen months later the cancer recurred and she had a further course of chemotherapy. A member of staff within the oncology department helped her with practical tasks such as applying for benefits. She recovered well after the chemotherapy and decided to retire at that point. She started watercolour classes, tried aromatherapy, reflexology, yoga, meditation and embroidery, and still continues some of these new interests. Attending Look Good, Feel Better; pampering sessions for people undergoing chemotherapy was enjoyable. She has also found art therapy and writing poetry a tremendous help.; These help her to relax and process her emotions. Her religious faith has been renewed and she is greatly involved with her local church. Early on in her treatment she found antidepressants helped her a great deal, but later decided to come off of these as she wanted to experience the emotions she was having. She finds that reflexology, meditation and prayer have been helpful instead. She also found counselling beneficial.

Over the last ten years she has experienced recurrences of cancer and been treated with topotecan, Taxol and tamoxifen. She also needed further surgery and had a hysterectomy. At the time of interview she had two small tumours in the tissue around her liver. She now feels an expert in her own illness, and confident to ask questions and discuss possible treatment options. She has been pleased with the care that she has received, and has valued medical professionals who have talked openly with her rather than making assumptions about the treatment she would like to receive. She now feels pretty good; and is enjoying life. She has been on three holidays since completion of her last course of chemotherapy. She finds the story of Pollyanna inspiring, and tries to play the glad game; by thinking of things in her life she is grateful for, thinking of five every morning when she wakes up. She visits an alternative medicine practitioner who gives her supplements and vitamins to take. She is philosophical; about her future, enjoys the good times and takes each day as it comes. She plans things only a couple of months in advance, but feels it is important to focus upon a future. Her cancer is slow-growing and she hopes advances in treatment may be able to help her. She says that she does experience lows, but attending a support group reminds her that there is always someone worse off than herself. The support of family and friends has been vital. She feels she is now more willing to have adventures, take risks, and feels more confident. She also feels she is more patient and has enjoyed opportunities for self-discovery, and now savours previously taken-for-granted things. She is involved in a local patient action group which campaigns for services in oncology departments.

She says to people diagnosed with cancer that you may feel as if the floor has fallen from beneath you, but it is important at some point to try and look for positives. She urges people to take control in some way, whether through asking questions, learning new skills or changing diet. She encourages people to speak with a counsellor, as she found this easier than speaking to family and friends about certain issues. Most importantly, she reminds people to hang in there.;

She knows that at some point there will be no more treatment she can have for her ovarian cancer…

Age at interview 66

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 56