Emma Colledge is a 23 years old prison officer and instructor with the army cadets. Active and aware, with her whole life ahead of her. But in February 2022, she noticed she was bloated. And it started off a year that would change her life forever.
“I put the bloating down to certain foods making it flare up. I went and started my new job, completed all the physical training, and noticed when I lay on my stomach it felt like I had a ball in there. I took a pregnancy test just to make sure, but it came back negative.
I continued with life as I felt fine, but I started getting annoyed that my work trousers were getting tighter. I also needed to wee more but again I didn’t think anything of it, except my belly was large and hard. I managed to get a doctor’s appointment and they said ‘are you sure you’re not pregnant?’ and to go home and do a test, but she would refer me for a scan. I waited and waited for the scan, trying to be understanding that things take time, but I also didn’t for one minute think it could have been cancer (and I never received that scan).
By the time we reached August, I couldn’t even eat without feeling sick all the time. I could only eat tiny portions. So, I went to the walk-in centre, who gave me anti sickness tablets and rang my doctor to get me this scan as he was concerned why my stomach was so hard.
I went away for two weeks with the cadets, living life as normal as possible. I still struggled to eat but I didn’t want it to stop me doing anything. I was just very tired. I had a doctor’s appointment three days after I got back from camp and the doctor booked me for emergency blood test, and an urgent referral to gynaecology, to be seen within two weeks.
I started getting pain in my lower abdomen, so I rang 111. They saw me and gave me painkillers and said if you are still in pain in the morning, go to A&E. So, I did and got taken to have an ultrasound within an hour to find a 30cm ovarian cyst.
They admitted me into hospital to do further scans and blood tests, and the plan was for planned surgery to get the cyst removed. But I had a CT scan the following morning and it came back as stage 3c ovarian cancer. I never in a million years thought that at the age of 23 I would be going through this.
I had a full hysterectomy. This broke my heart but if it saved my life, my health is more important.Emma, 23
On the 22nd of September, I had my first surgery to remove the cyst. It was successful; however, they did find deposits of cancer on some of my other organs, so they took biopsies. A fortnight later, I had my second surgery where they successfully removed all visible signs of cancer as well as taking out my spleen. I also had a full hysterectomy. This broke my heart but if it saved my life, my health is more important. There are so many ways I can still be able to have a family.
Looking towards the future
Surgery was successful and I’m currently cancer free. I’m due to start six rounds of chemotherapy soon to mop up anything they may have missed during surgery. I haven’t come to terms yet with losing my hair – it’s not something you go through every day! It’s very hard adjusting to having a stoma too, but this will be reversible.
I know there’s more of my journey to go. The doctors in hospital have called me the overachiever as nothing will stop me from doing anything.
It means the world to me that more people are aware of this. I thought I was aware of the symptoms, but I never thought it could happen to someone as young as me. There’s good days and bad days, but we have to stick together. I just want to get back to climbing mountains again!'
An ovarian cancer diagnosis shouldn't be this difficult or take so long to get. Women shouldn't be having to go to A&E to be diagnosed. Your support can help us raise awareness of ovarian cancer to help women being diagnosed earlier, and your donations can help us continue pioneering work towards a screening programme - just like we have in breast cancer and cervical cancer.