"We need to look after our minds too"

Claudia Gore2

Ovarian cancer is a dastardly disease and, because it’s so complex, there aren’t many treatment options.  Clinical trials help doctors and medical researchers understand more about a disease, how to treat it, and how to help people living with it.

 There are trials looking to find new drugs and treatments, but also those that look beyond treatment to consider psychological effects and survivorship issues.

Between 2013 and 2016 we ran a clinical trial, OvPsych, looking at the psychological health of women who’d been treated for ovarian cancer. Here we talk to Claudia Gore, 47, about the psychological impact treatment had on her and why mental health needs to be taken seriously too.

Taking part was a gift

“We all get tired but two years ago I blamed a particularly exhausted period on too much hard work. When I started to bloat and get tummy pain, I knew there was more too it though. In some ways, I’m lucky — as a doctor, I was able to get help quickly. But I didn’t feel lucky when I saw fluid on my ultrasound. I knew what it meant. Within two weeks I was in hospital, waiting to be operated on by Dr Christina Fotopoulou. Those two weeks were rough. My husband, an experienced doctor, was shaken to the core. I remember looking at our puppy, and thinking ‘at least he’ll be there, when I won’t.’

But, despite unsurprising feelings of trepidation, I wasn’t fazed by the hospital environment — I work in it after all. Everything went well and, following surgery, I had 18 weeks of chemotherapy through a randomised trial.

Pre-surgery, I had some psychological help from a renowned expert in clinical hypnosis, but as I approached the end of the chemotherapy, support waned. Thankfully, the research nurses approached me with information about the OvPsych study. This was an absolute gift, as I had been wondering about how I was going to continue to look after my psychological wellbeing as my body recovered. 

Claudia 2
Nothing to lose, everything to gain

As doctor and a clinical researcher myself, I know that many good treatments are only available because of good research. And I firmly believe that my medical misfortunes are an opportunity to help answer questions, which will help others in the future. 

Many people regard psychological matters as a weakness and often we’re caught out by thoughts like ‘I just have to be strong’, ‘I should be able to cope’, ‘the worst is over’ or ‘I’ll be fine, if I just pull myself together.’ But, I disagree. As humans, we are not just a body. We need to look after our minds too. We have strong emotions, some conscious, some hidden. If I injure my back and have bad posture – I’ll go and see a physiotherapist to help with my body-posture.  Psychologists help with the ‘posture of the mind’. 

Before I even finished chemo I was worried that I’d have a ‘late psychological response’. I anticipated how hard it would be to get back to work. I worried that my confidence would be gone after six months away; that the treatment would affect my concentration. My body was weaker and still recovering – and I didn’t know how to trust myself with this journey I faced.

OvPsych offered me three sessions with a wonderful psychologist called Helen. And I found the three sessions immensely helpful. I also participated in a stress management course and met some lovely people in the same ‘cancer boat’. It allowed me to be happy, enjoy my life and also, to function at work.

We can beat cancer by studying it

Ovarian cancer is a horrible, sneaky cancer. Because it is sneaky, many women die. Because it is sneaky, most women are petrified of it. I was – it was my ‘I absolutely would never want to have that one’ cancer.

But we can beat it. By studying it we can make it less sneaky, less deadly. By laying bare its secrets and sniffing it out, we can improve the future for other women. And that’s why women like me need to take part.

Taking part gives the support of lovely research teams, support that is really valuable in an overstretched NHS system.  Taking part allows access to new treatments. And, ultimately, taking part could save lives.”

For more information on clinical trials visit the NHS website