Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day, an opportunity for Australians everywhere to give a moment’s thought to this relatively rare, but devastating women’s cancer. Sadly, ovarian cancer survival rates are still low. Only around 46% of those diagnosed with ovarian cancer today will survive for five years or longer after diagnosis.
Ovarian cancer may not cause obvious symptoms in its early stages. In many cases, ovarian cancer is present for some time before it is diagnosed. Currently there is no screening test for ovarian cancer, so women should be aware of the signs and symptoms, including increased abdominal size or bloating, feeling full quickly or indigestion, unexplained fatigue or appetite loss, urinary or bowel changes, and abdominal or pelvic pain.
As with other cancers, to help reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer women should quit or never take up smoking and maintain a healthy body weight.
Kristin Young was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in September 2009 at the age of 47. The diagnosis changed her life and the lives of those around her, but she urges anyone affected by ovarian cancer to not lose hope.
Early in 2009, I noticed some enlarged lymph nodes in my groin but, at that stage, my doctors reassured me that it was probably nothing serious.
My GP recommended a pelvic ultrasound, which didn’t find any signs of cancer. Another doctor recommended I get the enlarged lymph nodes biopsied and it turned out that there was actually cancer there.
Everything happened very quickly from then. There was so much to find out and so many decisions to be made. It was a very overwhelming experience which completely took over my life.
I had the standard surgery, a full debulking laparotomy to remove the tumours spread throughout my abdomen, and I was diagnosed at Stage IIIC. This was followed by a course of chemotherapy for eighteen weeks, which restricted my life in many ways and caused pain, nausea and fatigue.
Before my diagnosis, I was very physically active and the treatment stopped me in my tracks. I entered menopause overnight and lost all my energy and strength.
At the end of chemo, I was lucky enough to get on a clinical trial for maintenance therapy which went for two years. The aim of the trial was to slow down cancer recurrence, although I still don’t know if I was on the placebo or not.
But four and half years post-diagnosis, my cancer returned, as ovarian cancer often does.
I underwent another operation, which was very aggressive and led to complications, then followed up with more chemo. Soon after, I began another maintenance therapy clinical trial, which I’m still on 4 1/2 years later. This time, I really believe I am on the real drug and not the placebo. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had this chance.
I always remember seeing Cancer Council’s Understanding Cancer Booklets in the hospital. At the time Cancer Council NSW seemed like the obvious people to call, so I rang the 13 11 20 information and support service and eventually became a part of their community.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer for the Cancer Connect program, speaking with other women who have received the same diagnosis and I’ve even shared my story for Cancer Council’s Cancer, Work & You guide. I’ve also recently volunteered to become a Peer Volunteer on the ENRICHing Survivorship Program for the Cancer Council NSW.
If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, understand that it is a tricky diagnosis, so be patient, persistent and well-informed. Work closely with your medical team and be realistic about the challenges. But, above all, never give up hope, as new advances are developing in this field all the time, and aim to get the most out of every day wherever you are along the journey.
A cancer diagnosis changes your life and the lives of those around you. Since my diagnosis, I’ve grown really passionate about supporting and advocating for those affected by this disease.
To learn more about ovarian cancer, click here.