Interview 154

Age at interview: 55
Age at diagnosis: 50
Brief Outline: Ovarian cancer diagnosed in 1997 following frequent urination and feeling that all was not well. Treated by surgical removal of ovaries and womb. Recurrence treated with chemotherapy.
Background: Citizens Advice Bureau advisor; married; 2 adult children.

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Aged 50, she felt that she needed to urinate more frequently and had some stomach bloating, but did not feel unwell. Her GP sent her for an ultrasound and cysts were discovered in her ovaries. She was operated on and had her ovaries, uterus and part of her bladder removed, and was then told that she had ovarian cancer. She felt ‘taken aback’ at being diagnosed with cancer, but did not require chemotherapy and felt she had had a ‘lucky escape.’ Three-monthly check-ups were conducted, and 18 months after her operation she was told that the cancer had returned, this time near to her kidney. She had two courses of chemotherapy (carboplatin and Taxol). The chemotherapy was administered every three weeks, for six sessions – this was delivered by a six-hour drip. She found this very frightening but thought of the treatment like bleach, cleaning the unpleasant things from her body. She found the nurses to be kind and supportive, and the ward had a pleasant feeling to it. When she began to lose the hair on her head she decided to have it shaved off. She had a wig but felt more comfortable wearing scarves when she went out. She found losing her eyebrows and eyelashes difficult. She found that the chemotherapy gave her a metallic taste in her mouth, nausea, and tingling sensations in her hands and feet. She wrote poetry and verse about her experiences, and found this very therapeutic. 
She was self-employed and found carrying on with some work when she felt well enough was beneficial. However, she found that feeling tired and needing to rest more gave her time to think about the meaning of life. She found counselling useful, to be able to talk to someone outside of her family about how she was feeling. Her mother’s church pastor called regularly to see her and she decided to start attending church. Her outlook on life changed, and she started noticing things that she had not done before. She realised that every moment of her life was of great value, and re-assessed her priorities. She decided to give up work and pace herself, as she finds she has less energy than she used to. She feels she is now more compassionate and loving, and spends much more time with her family. She paints and draws and enjoys creative writing, and is involved in a cancer support group and as a patient advocate. She also treats herself to massages. She still has three-monthly check-ups and it is now four years since she completed her chemotherapy. She feels that having cancer changed her, but in a positive way that made her have a greater sense of what she values in life. 



Before having ovarian cancer she took life and material wealth for granted; she has now found...

Before having ovarian cancer she took life and material wealth for granted; she has now found...

But things were starting to happen to me that weren’t necessarily physical, because I think as an individual it changed me a great deal. Yeah?
Up until then, basically, I’d had very good job, I had a successful business, a career, I had money in the bank, I could change my car every year if I wanted. I had all the material things that I thought life was about, basically. And physically up until then I had always been very fit and very well. So to a certain extent I suppose what I’d done is taken life very much for granted. And because I was forced to rest, because I didn’t through certain times have the energy to do very much more than just rest, it started me to think a whole lot more deeply about, I suppose, the meaning of life. And one of the things that happened was, my mum, who goes to the local church, got her Pastor to come and have a chat with me, and he would come once a week and we’d talk about all sorts of things, and I thought he might thrust religion down my throat, but he didn’t. He was just very kind and he listened, and one afternoon every week he would come along and we would spend some time together. 
And out of, I suppose out of gratitude for his visits to see me, I thought I might go along to his church, and I started to get involved in the group in the church. And I, you know, I started to view life very much differently. I mean apart from the obvious stuff like, you know, time, how much time do we have, and, you know, we are all going to die at some stage, which up until then I had very much ignored, sort of mortality and all that. And I think one of the hardest things that I had to get my head round was the fact that, you know, one of the things that is guaranteed for all of us is that we will die. And the other thing was realising that, you know, so many people are living, they’re alive, but it seemed to me they weren’t really living. And so the whole of that, for me, was turned completely upside down, and I recognised that every moment I had was of great value. And so things that, I mean even simple things, like when I used to walk the dogs, I would walk the dogs and think, ‘Right, got three quarters of an hour to walk the dogs’, but I was finding, probably because I hadn’t got the energy to do it at such a pace anyway, I was actually finding that, you know, I would walk the dogs and see things that I’d probably not noticed for years and years and years. And I know from people that I speak to that that does happen a lot with patients who are diagnosed with cancer. 
So my whole outlook on things started to gradually change, and I started to think, rather than, ‘How much do I want to work and what do I want to earn?’, I actually started to think, ‘Well, actually, how much do I need to earn and do I want to do that?’
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