It’s been nearly 30 years since my beautiful mum passed away of Ovarian Cancer – she was just 29 years old. I had recently turned three and my brother was only 6 months. There was no family history of Cancer, mum was incredibly healthy, she never even took a sick day.
Her story is unique in that she first started experiencing symptoms when pregnant with my brother Ben. At the start of 1989 she complained of lower back pain, nausea and was having night sweats. She was also constantly fatigued and run down – unfortunately her symptoms are common in pregnancy and with a two year old running around (I am sure my family will agree I was not the easiest toddler) her doctor wasn’t too concerned. It was a difficult pregnancy and in April when her condition significantly worsened she was told the back pain was down to the baby moving around and touching nerves. Given that the pregnancy was in its final weeks no meaningful tests were conducted so as to not cause stress on the unborn child. Ben was born 2 weeks premature from an induced pregnancy as Mum suffered from high blood pressure.
Everyone just assumed once the baby was born she would be back to her healthy, happy self. Only she wasn’t…
After the delivery she still felt incredibly unwell with no real meaningful symptoms, so she stayed in hospital for an additional week. Doctors carried out some general testing but nothing conclusive showed up. As we now know, Ovarian Cancer is truly the silent killer, once the symptoms appear it is almost too late.
Ben was born 24th May 1989 – In June, still continuing to experience pain and night sweats Dad pushed her to get more testing done, convinced that something was not right. It was there they finally had an ultrasound which confirmed several tumours on her Ovaries. Biopsies were taken which confirmed the worst. The tumours were cancerous, inoperable and she was given approx. 6 month to live. She was just 28 year old with a newborn baby and 2 year old toddler. That was the 20th June and she literally died 6 months later on 28th December. The Cancer had been growing inside her the entire pregnancy.
I can’t even fathom her pain upon hearing the news that she would never see her children grow up. It breaks my heart.
They tried everything: Chemotherapy, natural therapy, alternative medicine, prayer; but it was too late. The Cancer was so aggressive it had now spread to both her liver and spleen. A final blood transfusion was done at the local hospital – just to make her suffering more bearable and on Christmas Day 1989 she fell into a coma, passing away in the early hours of 28th December 1989. She was just 29 years of age. Her final words to Dad were “Tell the kids I am so sorry I can’t be there to watch them grow up”
Growing up I had always been aware of my risk given my genetic history, I kept putting off getting genetic testing done because I assumed I was BRCA1/ BRCA2 positive. I had convinced myself I was going to die of Ovarian Cancer just like my mum. Every time I experienced moderate back pain I was like “Well this is how it starts.”
I finally reluctantly carried out the test in 2017 only to have it come back inconclusive and have to be re-tested. I had mentally prepared myself that I already had a genetic mutation that I was more annoyed the second test I had to have was during Fashion Week (I work in Fashion PR).
By the Grace of God my second test came back clear and I thankfully, don’t carry the gene. I am aware of how incredibly lucky I am, however I am hyper vigilant about regular ovarian and breast screening. In the future, post children I have no qualms about having my ovaries removed. My brother who was inside her the whole time of the Cancer also has to have regular testing and I know he suffers the same anxiety.
Education around the disease is imperative, people seem to think you can tell by a pap smear or a blood test. You can’t!
And because, unlike breast cancer, the tumour isn’t tangible and its harder to test for, Ovarian Cancer it is almost forgotten. Additionally, people assume it is a disease that affects older women – Mum was just 28 year olds and never had so much as a cold!!
I miss my mum every single day, not a day goes by that I don’t think about her but if anything can come from her untimely death its that education and early detection is vital. I never, ever want her story to be forgotten and for another child to grow up loosing their mum to this terrible disease.
If Sabrina and her Mum, Antonietta’s story inspired you, please help us continue to provide all Australians with life-saving information on their breast and ovarian cancer health risk by donating or fundraising now.