We all have women in our lives who we love and cherish: our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our friends. And every woman in the world is at risk of developing ovarian cancer.
This cancer has the lowest survival rate of all gynecologic cancers, and is characterised by a lack of awareness of symptoms and late stage diagnosis.
To mark World Ovarian Cancer Day, Fiona Munro from Perthshire, has kindly shared with Macmillan Cancer Support extracts from her blog in which she writes about living with ovarian cancer.
You can read her blog in full at https://fkmunro.com
In August 2015 I had surgery due to internal bleeding caused by a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
Following this I experienced abdominal pain, swelling and frequent urination and so went to see my GP on a number of occasions over an 8-week period. She assured me that these symptoms were due to irritation caused by the internal bleeding. However, to alleviate my concerns she referred me for an ultrasound.
I first saw my gynaecologist on 8th December 2015. He told me that he was not concerned and I was not at high risk of ovarian cancer. He asked me to return in three weeks time and reassured me that my symptoms should have passed by then.
Over the next few weeks I was meant to be celebrating my wedding anniversary in Vienna and of course Christmas with family and friends, however my abdominal swelling had now reached a point where I was unable to eat and I was growing increasingly anxious about my health.
When I returned to see the gynaecologist he reassured me again that I had a post-surgery infection and booked me in for a laparoscopy for late January. However, two weeks later, whilst at work, the abdominal swelling and pain got to the stage that I was unable to do anything.
The gynaecologist conducted another ultrasound which showed a build up of fluid and I was admitted to hospital that night where 5 litres were drained from my abdominal cavity.
Further tests confirmed my worst fears. The fluid contained ovarian cancer cells.
A CT scan showed that my cancer was at an advanced stage and I was later diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer on 3rd February 2016. I started my chemotherapy treatment on the same day.
Today I received my forth dose of chemotherapy, and some very welcome flowers!
My husband dropped me off at the hospital for 9.30 am. He doesn’t come with me to appointments as I like to spend the time on my own as I usually get so sleepy during the treatment. Also I like to get to know the nurses and other patients.
When I arrived I was told that they were starting the treatment with another blood test as my red blood cells are low and I need a blood transfusion. I need a what now?! I didn’t know this could happen so it was a huge shock! I’ll be receiving 2 units of blood on Monday. I’m told this will help stop me feeling so fatigued and also help me to stop feeling so cold all the time.
Before each of my chemotherapy treatments start I am given a number of medications to prevent an allergic reaction. I am also given two medications through my IV line into my cannula – the first prevents damage to my stomach and the second is an antihistamine. I was also told that my magnesium levels are low and so I’ve been given new tablets to take twice a day – apparently this is a common side effect of chemotherapy.
Because of the need for all of these medications it wasn’t until 10.45 am that I was able to start my actual chemotherapy. I usually receive two chemotherapy drugs to kill cancer cells and one drug that prevents cancer cells from growing new blood vessels and therefore spreading.
I completed the full dose of Paclitaxel (Taxol) and the nurse administered some glucose through my IV line to flush the line and my cannula before the next drug was administered so as to prevent the two chemos mixing. The next drug is Carboplaten. This was administered over 90 minutes and is followed by another glucose flush through my IV.
Normally, following this second chemotherapy drug, I’d receive Bevacizumab (Avastin ®) however it is not possible for me to receive this drug in the cycles before or following surgery as it delays healing so, as a result, I was not given this drug today. This meant, amazingly, that I finished my treatment after 7 hours instead of 8! Yay!
The tiredness that I feel as a result of chemo is so hard to describe. Sleep doesn’t elevate it and it’s hard to get my brain and body to function as one.
For instance I could by lying on the sofa wanting a glass of water…and I’ll think about getting the glass of water and even drinking the water…but it will take about an hour for my body to come round to the idea and actually get off of my sofa and go and get the glass of water!
On hair loss…
When I was diagnosed with cancer in January I had blonde hair that, up until then I’d always kept long. I was one of those people who gets terrified when their hairdresser says they need to cut an inch off, so the prospect of chemo taking my hair was a bit of a shock.
However I decided to embrace it wholeheartedly and I very quickly decided that I was going to donate my hair to the little princesses trust so that children with cancer could benefit from it. But that was all before I started my chemo treatment. After my first dose my hair was still intact! Hurray! However after my second dose it started to fall out in clumps.
I thought that I would find this much more distressing than I actually did. It may be that by the time your hair starts falling out you have dealt with so much that it pales in comparison but it didn’t really bother me at all. After a couple of weeks it quickly got to the stage that there was no denying that my hair was not going to stop falling out and so I took the plunge and asked my husband to give me a buzz cut.
Watching my hair fall to the ground in clumps all around me felt so liberating. I was taking back control.
When I finally looked in the mirror I felt like a warrior. Who was this strong woman looking back at me?! It was so empowering. I think that day I felt the strongest I’ve ever felt – like I could do anything. Like even cancer didn’t stand a chance.
Following my fourth dose of chemo, and my hair has started to fall out much more drastically. Overnight I felt like I’d gone from a warrior to Gollum! Not so liberating when you have to greet that look in the mirror in the morning!
So I once again embraced a new hairdo and clean shaved my head! I then took it one step further and, having regretted not going out with my buzz cut, went out with my bald head on show for all the world to see. And do you know what happened?… Nothing! No one gave a f&@k! Turns out strangers don’t really care what other strangers look like – even if they have no hair! Who’d have thought it…
When the words ‘stage four cancer’ entered my life everything changed…but for the better!
I’m now living the best days of my life. I’m now the happiest I’ve ever been because cancer has taught me to let gratitude, positivity and joy be the only goals in my life.
You see, what a cancer diagnosis does is really highlight your mortality. It makes you aware that tomorrow really isn’t guaranteed. Yes we’ve all read the many inspiration quotes about living for today but how many of us actually do? Well a cancer diagnosis (especially a late stage one!) is a constant reminder that today really is all we have.
There are days when I feel so ill from treatment that I want to just lie on the sofa, but I still force myself to get up and dressed and take our lovely rescue dog for a walk because it is so important that there is joy (and nature!) in every day.
I no longer take anything for granted. Least of all the wonderful people in my life or the time I have with them.
Cancer is a gift because it wakes you up to a life half lived and makes you see the beauty in every moment. It makes you savour every second. I am grateful for my cancer diagnosis because I am not sure all the motivational quotes in the word would have allowed me to see life, or the privilege it is to be alive, in the same way that I do now.
By Fiona Munro
About: Fiona is a 30 year old woman with stage four ovarian cancer. She blogs about her cancer journey, positivity and the importance of maintaining a holistic balance of physical, emotional and spiritual health. Read her posts in full.