Interview 130

Age at interview: 46
Age at diagnosis: 39
Brief Outline: Ovarian cancer diagnosed in 1996 following weight loss, abdominal bloating, lighter periods and tiredness. Treated by surgical removal of ovaries and womb, and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy for recurrences caused kidney failure and immunological shock.
Background: Retired teacher, married, two adult children.

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At the age of 39 she began to lose weight rapidly, which she put down to working long hours and looking after her children. Her periods then began to get lighter over the course of a few months to the point of having very few. She lived abroad, and on visiting the UK her family noticed her weight loss. Her abdomen was bloated but she had had pelvic inflammatory disease when she was younger, and put it down to that. On looking back, she realises she was also very tired most of the time. She went back to her home abroad and her symptoms persisted. She saw her GP and was sent for an ultrasound, and then trans-vaginal ultrasound. Growths were found and she went into hospital for surgery, thinking that she had endometriosis. She was, however, diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and had her uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, part of her omentum, half of her vagina and her cervix removed, and some cancer remained. Following surgery she was told that her cancer was a stage 4 ovarian cancer. She began chemotherapy (Taxol and cisplatin) a week later, which was not successful, and then peritoneal chemotherapy (cisplatin) directly into her abdomen. She went into remission but the treatment caused renal failure, which is now end stage. She has dialysis three times per week. She remained in remission for two years, and also moved back to the UK. She had CT scans every three months and these showed that new growths were forming on her bowel, diaphragm and liver. She had chemotherapy to target the largest tumour on her liver, but due to her kidney failure, she became very unwell and was in a coma in intensive care for two weeks, and then on a normal ward for two months. When she was intubated in intensive care, one of her vocal chords was paralysed. She used to be a singer and found this difficult to come to terms with. She also started on a trial of tamoxifen but experienced severe bone pain and stopped after a week. She has decided not to receive any further treatment, and now focuses on the use of complementary therapies, including homeopathy (such as mistletoe and Noni juice), spiritual healing, qijung (similar to tai chi), massage and the Alexander technique. She meditates daily and includes music in her life. At the time of interview it is seven years since her diagnosis. 
She read books about surviving cancer psychologically and physically, and found Ovacome publications useful for being sensitive and realistic, but positive. Her local support group has also been a source of support, with its focus on quality of life and living with cancer. She found the sensitivity and compassion of the medical profession excellent, and particularly values her oncologist. She believes strongly in the power of the mind and aims to think positively, and not of herself as a cancer patient. She feels that having cancer has enriched her life and the lives of her family. She says she was a workaholic and cancer forced her to re-evaluate her priorities. She and her family now cherish every moment and each other, and ‘don’t sweat the little stuff anymore.’ She says that ‘everything becomes so precious when you’ve come so close to losing it’ and she is not ready to let go of life yet. Her husband and family have supported her throughout. She allows herself to plan a few months in advance and has a cruise planned at the time of interview. She has been on holidays and enjoys fine wine and dining. She encourages any woman with discomfort, tiredness, and changes in periods or weight to visit their GP promptly. She says that her family history of breast cancer led her to concentrate on that, and normalise any unrelated symptoms. She finds an American show-jumper, who has been living with ovarian cancer for fourteen years, an inspiration, and it reminds her that there can be life after diagnosis. 



She says that her ovarian cancer experience has enriched her life and that of her family; they...

She says that her ovarian cancer experience has enriched her life and that of her family; they...

When I first was diagnosed I felt I needed to read everything that was ever published about ovarian cancer and cancer in general and talk in chat-rooms to people and just immerse myself in finding out about cancer and peoples’ responses to it. But I found after the first couple of years I had the opposite reaction. I thought I knew intellectually all I needed to know and that my journey from there had to be more spiritual and finding what resources I had inside myself to live with this, because I don’t think about it. I don’t think about dying from it. I just think it’s a challenge to learn to live with it. And I would have to say that I think it has enriched my life, having cancer. And I know it has enriched my family’s lives; they’ve said that to me over and over again. Because all of us now just enjoy every day, every little thing from having that first cup of tea in the morning, to talking on the telephone, to each other, just everything becomes so precious when you’ve come so close to losing it. And it has opened our eyes, my whole family and myself, to how wonderful life is and how lucky we are to have each other. And it has also helped us put things in perspective; we say we don’t sweat the little stuff anymore. You realise what’s important and what isn’t, and because we see each day as a gift then we make sure that we don’t squander it. So it has been an enriching experience for us all, I think. 
But as the years have gone on they’ve realised that, as a family, what we have to do is just have a lot of fun together, a lot of good times, create lots of good memories. Not avoid the future; we do talk about death and they have seen me at death’s door. So we don’t avoid it but we live in the moment, and my son who’s still in Canada comes over twice a year for nice long periods, and we talk a lot on the phone. So I think the cancer experience has made us very close as a family, or kept us close when perhaps you may expect your children to have flown away a little bit more. Mine have flown but they keep contact and they’re very careful to do that. So I think we appreciate each other a lot. So…
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