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Interview OV45

Age at interview: 62
Age at diagnosis: 60
Brief Outline: Ovarian cancer diagnosed in 2001 following indigestion, abdominal pain and bloating. Treated by surgical removal of ovaries and womb, and chemotherapy. Recurrences treated with chemotherapy. Surgery to lungs and heart to prevent fluid build-up.
Background: Company director; married; 3 adult children.

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A recurrence of her cancer was treated with new experimental chemotherapy drugs.

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A recurrence of her cancer was treated with new experimental chemotherapy drugs.

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We then tried a new drug called Iressa, from AstraZeneca, which is a growth inhibitor. I was on that for about six or seven weeks before we had to give it up. It brought the marker down again so it was working quite well, but I had a lot of side-effects, mainly diarrhoea and skin rashes. What then happened is that I started to shake violently and be sick after taking it, so we decided I couldn't tolerate the drug longer.

At the minute we've decided to try a new drug Merck are taking through trials in Switzerland. It's going to be called cetuximab, which is a growth inhibitor that works like an antibody so in theory it will be easier to tolerate. As far as we know nobody's used it for ovarian cancer before and certainly I'll be one of the first people to take it in the UK. It will cost a fortune and I'll be a guinea pig again, but let's pray that it works.  

 

Guessed her diagnosis from what the gynaecologist said.

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Guessed her diagnosis from what the gynaecologist said.

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But when I went to the gyno he said 'Well I'm going to remove this cyst, of course I may need to do a full hysterectomy'. And I said, 'Why should you? I don't want you to do that.' And he said 'Supposing I find that there are other problems? I can't wake you up to sign the consent form, you'd better do it now'. So I said 'yes but why do you need to, why do you think there'll be a problem?' He said 'there could problems, and then of course you'll need treatment afterwards', and I thought 'Oh my God, it's cancer'. I was in a state of complete shock.

 

Describes the second treatment she had for pleural effusions, and fluid round the heart, which...

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Describes the second treatment she had for pleural effusions, and fluid round the heart, which...

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What had happened was that the fluid had built up again very suddenly. It was not only collapsing the lung, which was causing the breathlessness again, but the fluid had also built up around the heart. I think it must have been the pressure of all that on the diaphragm that was stopping me from eating.  

Anyway they rushed me across to another hospital to operate on the left lung and created also a pericardial window. Apparently around the heart there is a sac which had also filled with the fluid. The operation was pretty dramatic because when the surgeon cut into the sac, apparently it went off like a geyser and the heart arrested. Fortunately I've a strong heart so they got it going again quickly. The surgeon told me afterwards, which was a bit frightening, 'If I hadn't operated on you last night, you would have been dead in twenty-four hours'.

 

Kept the diagnosis a secret outside her immediate family in order to protect her business, until...

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Kept the diagnosis a secret outside her immediate family in order to protect her business, until...

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Well the first thing was the decision that I didn't have much option but carry on, because at the time there wasn't anybody ready to hand on to. We were actually part way through the process of head-hunting a new chief executive, and the idea had been I would remain as chairman and the new person would take over.

So I decided that from the point of view of the business it would be damaging if people knew that I had cancer and that there was no need for them to know. We took this decision as a family, that we would tell no one, which in someways was quite hard because it meant you had to find excuses for the days that you felt really ill.

In some ways it increased the pressure, and I know my children, who were taking it quite badly, wanted to tell their friends and in-laws. So it didn't just put more pressure on myself to try to be normal when I wasn't feeling normal, but it put pressure on them because they couldn't use their own support mechanisms.

On the other-hand, having to behave as though there was nothing wrong was wonderful therapy because I just couldn't wallow, I had to be absolutely normal and just carry on and be as cheerful as I usually am. In a way it didn't just hoodwink everybody else, it hoodwinked me. And I think that was quite positive really.

In fact we didn't tell anyone until the problems arrived at Easter when it became obvious that I wasn't going to be able to continue to work full time. Furthermore, if something could flare up as quickly as that, it wasn't right to be in a situation where people were reliant on me.

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