Just before her 60th birthday, my mum went to the GP complaining of some recuring symptoms; bloating, a bit of weight gain, frequent urination, and she felt full after eating only a small amount. She knew that something wasn’t right, and that these symptoms weren’t normal for her.
Eventually, our worst fears became reality – Mum received an ovarian cancer diagnosis, but only after pushing her GP, and this delay meant that she was diagnosed at a later stage in her cancer. She undertook some treatment for the cancer, as well as surgery and she was even on a trial for an ovarian cancer drug. That drug is now out – and on the market – helping other women.
Throughout the process, Mum really had to push back with her doctors and become her own advocate for her health; she had to trust her own body and her own instincts about what was going on. Even so, sadly, after six and a half years living and battling with the cancer, my mum passed away from it.
Reflecting on Mum’s experience, I feel strongly that women with ovarian cancer should be empowered with information about their options so that they can make informed decisions about their health. Usually, women know when something isn’t right – and you may need to push your health professionals to make them understand that, just like my mum did.
It’s so important to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, and to understand that pap smears don’t detect the disease. It’s great to have a pap smear every five years for cervical cancer, but you still need to be very aware of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, because a pap smear does not protect you from it. In fact, there’s no simple screening test available at the moment. My biggest hope for ovarian cancer in Australia is that they can secure the funding to develop an early detection test. This would be a game-changer because if you can catch the cancer early, you have a better likelihood of survival, more treatment options available and better outcomes.
Over the last 20 years, survival rates for ovarian cancer have remained relatively stagnant – which is a tragedy, especially when you consider that the survival rates of other cancers are improving significantly. It’s our responsibility to support the cause of ovarian cancer and advocate for funding and change.
Many years ago I was at a Parliament House breakfast, where I had the privilege to meet journalist and advocate Jill Emberson. Her words truly left their mark on me, as she detailed how not enough women are surviving ovarian cancer to advocate for change in its outcomes. “We’re all dying before we can become the warriors and the champions of this cause,” she said. Sadly, within six months of that breakfast, she too passed away from it.
At the moment, the strongest tools we have for prolonging lives and improving quality of life for women with ovarian cancer, is following up on our symptoms early – and seeking a second opinion if we don’t feel heard. I wish everyday my mum had the opportunity to be diagnosed earlier and that’s why my advocacy efforts are so important. I want to wherever I can stop someone else from experiencing what my Mum had to endure.
So I implore every woman. We need to trust our body and our instincts. We are the advocates of our own health.
This February Pink Hope has collaborated with Ovarian Cancer on #TealTakeover highlighting the work of both organisations in the efforts to support women and their families diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
This campaign was sponsored by GSK