Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month - Mary's Story

09/03/2018

Mary tells her story of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 25, what her experience was and how raising awareness is important to ensure people are prepared.

“I want to dispel the myth that you can’t be young and get ovarian cancer.”

I was diagnosed with stage 3 low grade ovarian serous carcinoma at the age of 25. Ovarian cancer hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was completely unaware of the signs and symptoms.

For around three years, I’d been attending my GP with common symptoms including bloating, abdominal pelvic pain, constipation and extreme fatigue. Occasionally, I ended up in the Emergency Department as the pain was too much bear.

Finally, my GP sent me for an urgent ultrasound scan in April 2014 at Lagan Valley Hospital. I knew something was wrong when the radiologist called the consultant in to take a look at the screen.

That started the ball rolling and I was referred to a gynaecologist. I had more scans and blood tests, and my CA125 levels were through the roof. I was told I had a large complex cyst on my right ovary, which needed removing by open surgery.

I had three surgeries in 2014 and was advised just before Christmas that year that my cancer had become more aggressive and spread to my bowel. As a result, a full hysterectomy and bowel resection was my only option.

On New Year’s Eve 2014, I had my third major surgery and spent a short time in a high-dependency unit. Thankfully, everything went well and all visible disease was removed. I have never felt such relief.

"The hardest part of the cancer diagnosis for me was telling the people I love"

On 10 February 2015, I started chemotherapy, carboplatin and paclitaxel drugs. I recall bursting into tears that day when walking into the treatment suite, I was so scared at the very thought of it.

I’m not going to say it was easy, far from it. I was very sick, full of aches and pains. I lost my hair and my body and mind were exhausted. I really struggled with losing my hair as I didn’t identify with the girl in the mirror. However, I found the strength to complete the treatment and a follow-up scan confirmed there was no evidence of disease.

The hardest part of the cancer diagnosis for me was telling the people I love and these people having to watch me go through it all. It was very shocking, but at the time you just get on with it. Each day does get better.

Unfortunately, I had to have a fourth surgery in May 2017 for a localised recurrence. However, they were confident it hadn’t spread and they had removed it all. There was no need for chemotherapy as it was caught early. The worst thing is living with the uncertainty and knowing it could come back at any point.

I’m very passionate about making people aware of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, especially younger women. I want to get my story out there that you can be young and get ovarian cancer. If we don't talk about the signs and symptoms, how will people be able to protect themselves against cancer?

It's really important to raise awareness and make sure people are better prepared. Women need to understand, listen and know their body. Be aware of the signs and symptoms. Visit your GP to get anything checked out, no matter how small or insignificant you may think it is – it could be nothing but it could also save your life.

I would like to pay tribute to all the Trust staff in the gynaecology, medical oncology and general surgery teams involved in my care. I can testify to their care, support and expertise, without which I believe I would not be alive and well today to share my story. I am forever thankful to them all.

In particular, I would like to thank my Consultant Gynaecologist Dr. Stephen Dobbs, Consultant General Surgeon Dr. Jack Lee and Consultant Medical Oncologist Dr. Sarah McKenna. I would also like to thank the remarkable nursing staff of Ward 5 South and the Bridgewater Suite, and in particular Clinical Nurse Specialist Elish McColgan, who has been a very caring and supportive friend to me throughout this journey.

I am a strong believer in the power of prayer and positivity. I believe in savouring every second life has to give you. Cancer wakes you up to live life to the fullest and see the beauty in every moment. My cancer diagnosis has allowed me to see the privilege of being alive. My fiancé and family have all been so positive and supportive. I'm getting married in September 2018 and still have so much more of life to live.