In 2012, Louise's Mum went to the GP, thinking that she might have pulled her hip muscle doing housework. She was prescribed various pain medications and even had some physiotherapy, but nothing could shift the persistent achy feeling.
"Mum carried on as best as she could but after her health began to decline, my Dad took her to Whiston hospital where a blood test confirmed a rise in white cells. A lump was also felt in the pelvis area.
A scan was organised for Mum at Clatterbridge hospital, which confirmed that she had ovarian cancer, some tumours on her bowel and a spot on her liver. She faced an operation to remove the tumour and part of her bowel, which would mean having to use a colostomy bag for the rest of her life. Once she’d recovered from the surgery she would then need six rounds of Carboplatin chemotherapy every three weeks.
On the evening after her surgery I visited Mum in the hospital; she was high on morphine but demanding her favourite sweets – wine gums! The nurse told us that a good chunk of cancer was removed, but most of it was stuck to the stomach wall. The surgeon couldn’t remove a section of the bowel because of this issue. We were also told rather abruptly that the cancer was stage 4 and incurable, but it could be managed with treatment.
The news was devastating, but we tried to focus on the bright side; Mum’s cancer could be reduced with chemotherapy. Her surgeon passed her over to a wonderful specialist and she began her treatment. Mum’s main concern was that she was anxious about losing her hair, as she’d always taken great pride in getting it done regularly. Thankfully Carboplatin allows you to keep your hair, but you are not allowed to dye it as this kills off the hair follicles.
Her iron levels also needed to be boosted with blood transfusions, as a side effect of the chemotherapy was anemia. The chemotherapy made Mum extremely ill and she ended up in the hospital seven times. However, she received the best care and the staff were fantastic and always a great source of comfort.
Dad and I started to read up on foods that may help Mum and wanted to make sure she was getting the right food that would aid her recovery. Turmeric, tomatoes, beetroot and green tea were all reported to be beneficial. When we put this to the dietitian at the hospital, we were offered no support. This was disappointing as while we shouldn’t replace chemotherapy with foods, they certainly have a role to play in the fight against cancer.
"Written on her notes were the words ‘spectacular results’; the cancer had shrunk to nothing"Louise Lacy
After three rounds of chemotherapy, Mum had another scan. Two weeks later, just before Christmas 2013, she was given the results. Written on her notes were the words ‘spectacular results’; the cancer had shrunk to nothing. The spot on her liver had gone, and the tumours on her bowel had reduced right down too. It was the best Christmas present that we could have hoped for.
Mum had another three rounds of chemotherapy, more spells in hospital and then another scan which confirmed again that the cancer was almost gone. The consultant told us that she would be checked twice a year. Finally, we could get on with our lives after a very turbulent 18 months…or so we thought.
We received a letter from the hospital explaining that the tumour that was removed from Mum’s ovaries had been analysed and it was thought that the cancer could be genetic. We had no real idea what that meant; nobody had had ovarian cancer in our immediate family.
Mum had a blood test straightaway but the results took about three months to be analysed before Mum was informed that she had the BRCA1 gene mutation.
The positive results meant that I would also need to be tested if I decided that was the course of action I wanted. I didn’t hesitate. The whole process took a year to go through and in all that time I couldn’t bring myself to plan for the future. I didn’t think that I was too bothered by the threat of a cancer link hanging over me, but looking back it did affect me. I just couldn’t understand why the process was taking so long. I knew that I wanted to be tested, but I had to wait while I had counselling. Although in a way perhaps it was best to wait as every time I would go to the hospital for a chat I was relieved that I didn’t have the blood test. I was so sure that I had the mutation that I mentally prepared myself for that outcome; surgery and new boobs! I made light of the situation; I was focused on what I had to do if I, like Mum, carried the faulty gene.
"I knew that if I did have the BRCA gene mutation then there would also be implications for my three daughters."Louise Lacy
Eventually, in September 2015 I finally had the blood test. I knew that if I did have the BRCA gene mutation then there would also be implications for my three daughters. After an anxious month of waiting for my results, I got a call to say that it was good news and I was not BRCA positive. The relief was immense, not only for myself but for my daughters who now didn’t have to be tested. Thankfully BRCA mutations don’t skip generations. I felt like I’d been re-born or won the Lotto. I could now get back to living my life.
It’s been three years since Mum finished her last round of chemo and she is still doing so well. Due to some slight pains in September 2016 another MRI was scheduled. From that, we discovered that the cancer had shrunk further without medication. Although we’ll never know if it has anything to do with the so-called ‘cancer-fighting’ foods, she is continuing to thrive.
Mum is fortunate in one respect because her cancer is genetic and Carboplatin is designed to work well against the disease she can be treated over and over if needs be, although thankfully it has not got to that stage yet.
My one wish, though, is that doctors become better qualified at spotting the signs of ovarian cancer. Mum was not a classic case; she had no bloating or tiredness, only pain and weight loss. If someone is going to a GP ten times in a short space of time then surely that needs to be investigated? Mum was one of the lucky ones despite a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Sadly not many women are quite as fortunate."