Here’s to strong women, may we be them, may we know them and may we raise them.
Today is the 8th March 2016. Today is my maternal grandma’s 90th birthday. It also marks the four-year anniversary since my paternal grandma passed away. And it is the day I had in my calendar to write a piece about Ovarian Cancer. Today is also International Women’s day; though by the time I finish writing this article this day will be long gone; it seems fitting today to write about an illness that only affects women.It may be your neighbour, your mother, your sister, your cousin or you; but Ovarian Cancer affects women of all ages. A staggering statistic is that almost 1,500 women are diagnosed every year in Australia and only 43% of these will survive (Ovarian Cancer Australia, 2014).
Currently in Australia there is no screening for ovarian cancer; however there are four major types of symptoms which women diagnosed with ovarian cancer report:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain.
- Persistent abdominal bloating.
- Needing to urinate often or urgently.
- Constantly feeling full after eating even a small amount.
Like with everything, if you notice changes to your body or have symptoms, which seem different, unusual or prolonged, book an appointment to discuss with your GP. We need to listen to our bodies. I have heard Nat Kringoudis, (doctor in Chinese medicine, acupuncturist and natural fertility expert) talk on two occasions; and the one thing which really stuck with me is, listening to your own body’s signs and symptoms. When you have a headache, perhaps that is your body telling you to slow down, get your eyes tested, drink more water, get more sleep…It is your bodies way of saying ‘HEY YOU, LISTEN TO ME’. I think in this fast paced world it is very easy to just pop a tablet and soldier on. As mothers we are constantly told life doesn’t stop so neither can you. But really more than anything it is important for us to stop, take care of ourselves, so we can model for our children the importance of looking after ourselves AND so we can be healthy for our families.
Ladies take care of yourselves. Keep track of when you are due for a pap smear (every two years) or ask your Doctor to send out a reminder when you are due. If you have any symptoms that seem strange, different or prolonged make an appointment to see your GP to get yourself checked out. We are leading busier and busier lives, but being healthy is the most important part. Many of us are mamas and we want to be there to see every milestone our children make; so lets look out for ourselves and stay healthy, positive and happy.
We chatted with Kelly Roberts, a 31 year old mum from Queensland who was diagnosed with LMP Ovarian Cancer a few years ago when she was just 29;
Kelly, what were the symptoms that originally lead you to see your doctor?
The initial symptom and probably the one that mattered the most to me was that I was suddenly incontinent. I began peeing myself in the most random of places with little to no warning. It’s scary to suddenly be incontinent at age 29! Other than that, I had some bloating & was losing weight without trying & I started to have some niggly lower back pain. It’s important not to ignore any symptoms or changes to your body as a woman … even the things you may think are “just a normal part of a womans life”, like bloating & tiredness.
After you were diagnosed what treatment did your doctors recommend for you?
Because my tumour was a very slow growing, non aggressive tumour, the formal treatment for me was surgery. I was 100% surgically treated by having a full hysterectomy & removal of both ovaries & tubes & my cervix, appendix & omentum. It was a big surgery but it means that I am fully treated & healthy. I had regular follow up ultrasounds & blood tests as well.
What type of support have you received since you were diagnosed with LMP Ovarian Cancer?
I have had amazing support since first finding the tumour on my ovary. I have had ahhh-mazing doctors & surgeons & specialists. I am seeing a wonderful psychologist & my family & friends have all been wonderful. I would have been lost without my mum, she took me to all my appointments & was there for every surgery & has been there for me everytime I got sad & had a complication or a problem. If you are sick in ANY way, don’t be scared to ask for help. People won’t always know what you need but they will want to help. Ask your family to help by cooking you some frozen meals or get a friend to help you clean the house! Just don’t be frightened or too proud to ask for help. My 13 year old son has been a super star … I’m so proud of him.
What has been your biggest setback since you received your diagnosis?
My biggest setback has been the lower back & hip pain that I started suffering with after the hysterectomy. It has been the most ongoing problem I have had. I have had to do some intense physio and hydrotherapy to get in a better place with the pain. You really do take your health for granted until you lose it … I feel for anyone suffering with chronic pain in any form.
You had a full hysterectomy at 29 years old. What was the hardest part about being told you couldn’t have any more children?
I haven’t dealt well with losing my ability to have kids. You always want what you can’t have … I always knew I wanted more kids but when I lost the ability to have them I started yearning for babies more than ever. I think too much about it actually … I have started worrying about the fact that I am single & should I meet someone, he would have to already have kids or not want them. It affects me more than you think. Instead of getting excited for my friends who are pregnant I get jealous & feel kind of angry about it, then I feel like a shitty person for doing that. It never escapes me that there are people far worse off then me & I know how lucky I am to have had Zeke when some people aren’t that lucky. I guess it’s all relevant, and until it becomes your life & your world, you really don’t know how you may deal with it. I’m healthy, I’m happy-ish (lol, working on that) and I have an amazing little boy & family & I will forever be grateful for that.
Since having a full hysterectomy what changes have you noticed to your body?
Being in surgical menopause has been really crappy! I cry watching toilet paper ad’s and random things like that. One minute I love you & the next I want to scratch your eyes out with my bare hands. The hot flushes are out of control & the changes in my skin & hair really get to me. (So shallow & vain … But again it’s all relevant) My mum also had a full hysterectomy at 29, we have hereditary issues. It has been really helpful having mum to understand & help me. Not having ovaries & in turn not having the hormones associated with ovaries means that I could potentially have some heart health & osteoporosis issues in the future so that is another thing to consider. But Menopause really isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not having a period is a bright side.
Can you share one positive piece of advice for other women who have been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer?
There is a cliche quote that says “you don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice” … I think it resonated with me because yes, a shitty thing happened but you deal with it because you have to. You will learn how strong you really are & you will definitely learn how amazing your tribe is. Your vibe is your tribe. When your tribe sees you in need you will get to witness all these amazing women & people in your life who will rally around & support you & raise you up & carry you when you need them to. I think it’s pretty cool to see the genuine & absolute love that your tribe has for you.
I would like to thank TMJ for running this story because I think it’s so important for all women, but young women especially – to be aware of this & of the symptoms & to take a proactive approach to their health – Kelly.
If you, or someone close to you has been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, the Ovarian Cancer Australian organisation is an excellent resource; they provide all women with ovarian cancer, access to the best diagnosis, treatment, information and support. More information can be found on their website. www.ovariancancer.net.au.
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