Andy’s wife Sarah was diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer in 2008. He shares their story to help raise awareness of the importance of early detection and to highlight why an ovarian cancer screening tool is so desperately needed.
"I was asked by Ovarian Cancer Action to try and put into words my experience of an event that changes thousands of lives each year. I wasn`t a victim; I didn`t have the disease. I was a bystander to the main event, like many people when they first hear a loved one has ovarian cancer.
In April 2008, my son and I had a few laughs on a family holiday watching my wife Sarah's `interesting` water-skiing stance. None of us had any idea at the time that her less than elegant posture was a warning sign of what was to come. The abdominal discomfort she had been experiencing was thought to have been endometriosis, which she had suffered from for years. After the holiday we encouraged her to see a GP. Sarah had a scan which showed a large ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit that would need to be operated on.
Nothing prepares you for the words “we think its cancer”. The feeling of being helpless and uncertainty replacing everything you took for granted. I just remember hugging her and saying “we`ll get through this together”, but it was down to Sarah to fight and all we could do was be there and stay strong for her.
The surgeon recommended a full hysterectomy as the most effective way of removing the ovarian cyst and reducing any secondary risk from cancerous cells that could spread. Even though we already had a son, Thomas, who was ten at the time, this was a massive decision. I can`t imagine how hard that would be for someone who still wanted to start a family.
Early diagnosis is vital. It was around this time we heard that with a stage 1 diagnosis, a woman has a 90% chance of surviving for five years. If diagnosed at stage 4, this is reduced to 5%.
"Ten years on Sarah is a `Super Survivor`and still fighting"Andy Cheesman
My wife had surgery a couple of days later to remove the cancerous cyst and opted for the full hysterectomy to improve her chances.
While Sarah was still in the hospital we had the results back; stage 2 of an aggressive strain of ovarian cancer. Catching it early meant there was a very high chance of survival. Looking back, many of her symptoms were there but masked by other factors. She was very lucky to have been diagnosed in the early stages and very brave to make the tough decision to minimise the chance of spreading through surgery.
Regular trips to the London Oncology Centre over the next ten years followed, with blood tests to monitor cancer marker levels and regular scans. Always in the background was the constant worry that any little ache or pain could be something more sinister. Additional surgery was required to repair a tear in the stomach muscle wall from the original operation, but ten years on Sarah is a `Super Survivor` and still fighting.
The same year my wife was recovering from her operation, a close family friend, who was 68 at the time, was finally diagnosed with an aggressive Stage 4 ovarian cancer, after many visits to her GP. She fought with an amazing strength of character and when the cancer spread to her brain, she allowed additional testing and monitoring on her `unique` strain in the hope that it would benefit others.
While writing this I am very conscious that another friend is also nearing the end of her battle with ovarian cancer after it has spread throughout her body. Yet another late stage diagnosis, which this time will rob four boys and a loving husband of a wife and mother.
I realise how fortunate Sarah was and how many people could be saved by a more effective screening program and greater awareness. I`m proud to be supporting Ovarian Cancer Action during NEX Giving Day as it will help to fund a potential screening tool for ovarian cancer, which is so desperately needed to save lives."