My name is Karen and this is my family story.
When my mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer I felt the world drop from beneath me. The shock is something I will never forget. I always had a deep fear of ovarian cancer as I had heard it was a silent killer with very few symptoms and only detected when it was too late.
My mother, however, had been complaining for three months about feeling unwell, tired, back pain, feeling full when eating and frequently needing to pass urine. Each time she saw her GP he told her it was her age and nothing to worry about.
She became extremely sick late one Friday afternoon and was going to see her doctor the following Monday. I then phoned and got mum into see a different GP on the Sunday. He looked at her with fresh eyes and ears and immediately asked her if she had had a hysterectomy, which she replied yes. I reminded her that her uterus had been removed 20 years ago but her ovaries and tubes where still there. The doctor stopped examining her and said he was going to send her for some tests. Mum was so grateful that somebody was going to finally do something for her. The next day she had pelvic and abdominal ultrasounds along with full blood tests including CA125 and CRP.
We saw the doctor a few days later for the results. He sat us down and told us he had not very good news. My mother nodded and said I’m sure you don’t. He confirmed immediately that her scans had clearly shown a mass on her ovary that was indeed cancerous. Her CA125 had gone from 12 to 250 and her CRP was six times what it should have been.
I immediately called my gynaecologist who arranged more scans that very day. Again the scans showed Ovarian Cancer. Mum was scheduled for a 7 hour operation as her symptoms and blood tests were so server they prepared us for the worst. Ovarian Cancer that had probably spread throughout her body and perhaps Stage 4. I will never forget the shock and disbelief of hearing those words.
Mum had surgery the following week. The longest waiting week of our lives. The surgeon phoned me three hours after she went in for surgery. I could hardly answer the phone as I feared the worst news. However, by some absolute miracle the cancer was contained to the ovary and had not spread!! Of course we had to wait another week for the pathology to come back to be completely sure but it was true! It seems the tumour that was on the right side was growing and affecting her appendix. This irritated her appendix which exasperated her symptoms (we think!)
Mum’s tumour was sent to Germany for genetic testing and also for research as we were told that it is rare to find this type of cancer at Stage 1. The results came back that she carries the BRCA2 gene.
I was tested as well and found out that I too carry the gene and it was suggested that I have my ovaries and tubes removed. Of course this was upsetting but having lived through this whole ordeal with my mother it made my decision much easier. The procedure was not so bad as it was done laparoscopically.
I recovered well and now have no side effects or feel any differently from before my surgery. I was 50 years old at the time and was already going through menopause.
Carrying the BRCA2 gene does not upset or affect me. It actually gives me the power and awareness to look after myself better than before and to have my regular check-ups.
Being a non-smoker, I drink little alcohol these days and try to keep my stress and mindset under control all add to my peace of mind. A positive attitude in life goes a long way! I personally would not consider having a mastectomy. The is a very personal decision and one that sits comfortably with me.
I’ve probably learnt the best lesson of my life going through cancer with my mum. Her approach from the beginning was something I will never forget. She waved and smiled to my dad and I as they wheeled her into surgery, not knowing what laid ahead. She was just happy she was going to have a wonderful sleep for the next 7 hours and trusted she was in good hands!! OMG!
Mum still had to have nine rounds of chemo. She lost her hair, felt sick and fatigued towards the end of her treatment but always smiled throughout it all and was so grateful for all the love and support around her.
I have since asked the oncologist why ovarian cancer is very prevalent in older woman, especially after menopause, whether they carry the gene or not. Was it because the ovaries were just sitting there dormant and hadn’t really “worked” properly for the past 20 years or so? She agreed and said it was indeed one theory.
Please note that it’s only around 15% of breast and ovarian cancers that are caused by the BRCA1 & 2 gene. The majority of these cancers are to women of all ages who do not carry the gene.
Look after your health ladies, be aware and listen to your bodies for any symptoms you may have. Keep on top of your check ups and mostly try not to be fearful. Anything caught early can usually be treated with great success.
My beautiful mum, who turns 79 years next month, saw her oncologist this week who proudly told her she had passed the two year danger zone and gave her a great report. I know not everyone is this lucky and sometimes things just don’t work out for the best but we need to do the best we can, be strong and support and love each other as “sisters” do.