Bethany was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was just 19. Now 21, she is back in her third year of university studying Animal Behaviour and Welfare. She shares her story.
“I’m sharing my story as I want people to know that women of any age can get ovarian cancer. I’d assumed that I was too young, yet here I am 21 years old with my once straight hair now turned into short, curly locks since growing back.
In August 2017 I started to lose a lot of weight and I was getting abdominal pains on and off, which I thought nothing of. I went back to my second year of university and everyone was complimenting me on losing weight, it felt good so I thought I couldn’t possibly look ill?
I played rugby at uni and carried on with my tumour (not knowing at this point that’s what I had). One day a girl fell on me during a tackle and I got a massive stabbing pain down near my groin. I was taken to Lincoln A&E where they said they would do a CT scan and blood test but ended up doing neither. I remember sitting there really scared about having a blood test because I’d never had one before. It’s funny to think about that now because I can’t even count how many blood tests I must have had and they don’t phase me at all anymore. The doctors in A&E told me it was internal bruising and muscle damage so I went away quite happy that I had got the answer I was looking for. Having seen about 50 doctors since then, they are astonished that A&E didn’t pick up on the 30cm tumour that was taking up most of my abdomen and pushing my other organs out of the way. I went on to Christmas quite happy, getting tired and throwing up and very ill whenever I had my period but again, thought nothing of it.
"Nobody could tell me that I wasn’t going to die because they didn’t know"Bethany Dinsley
After Christmas, my mum was adamant she was taking me back to the doctor. After feeling my stomach, he said he wanted me to have an urgent CT scan and colonoscopy to get answers. The day after my CT scan we got a call saying I didn’t need the colonoscopy anymore and they wanted us to come in to discuss the results. At this point I knew it was something serious, although I was convinced it was bowel cancer. I remember being on the phone to my friend and her reassuring me saying, ‘I will pay you £100 because I know you don’t have cancer.’
They called my name and asked me to stand on the scales and I saw I’d lost even more weight. I went into the consultation room and I can’t even describe the fear in my stomach seeing the Macmillan nurse sitting next to the doctor. I didn’t really clock on what was happening until I saw her badge and the concerned look on her face. When the doctor told me I had a 30cm tumour that he thought was a sarcoma the first thing I said was, ‘Am I going to die?’. Now people that know me know that I act really happy and positive even in the worst situations, especially in front of people I don’t know. It definitely wasn't like me to show I was vulnerable and scared. But the truth was, nobody could tell me that I wasn’t going to die because they didn’t know. I got sent home, pretty numb and had to tell my family.
"My scar reminds me of what I’ve been through and how far I’ve come"Bethany Dinsley
After being referred to the Royal Marsden cancer hospital in Chelsea, I had another consultation. This time I was really sick. I was throwing up constantly the whole drive down, it was about a two-and-a-half hour journey with my mum, dad and stepmum all in the car. I then got told the reason I was being sick was because the tumour was so large it was pushing on my liver and other vital organs, affecting their function. I got booked in for a biopsy and then went back to the hospital for the results. It was then that they told me I had stage 4 ovarian cancer. It was a bit of a shock because I thought we already knew what cancer it was, however it was at this point that he told me that it was treatable and that they wouldn’t have to take the tumour out as it is, with chemo it could shrink and hopefully could remove it once it was smaller.
I then had to undergo four rounds of strong chemotherapy. They had to give me the maximum dose due to how aggressive my cancer was. My iron levels also dropped so much I had to have an iron infusion. I don’t actually remember the first three days of my first cycle, which is pretty terrifying. After the first cycle, I had a PICC line fitted so I didn’t need to have six cannulas in me at once and then I had three more cycles after that, before having surgery on the 4th June to remove the tumour and my right ovary. The tumour had shrunk to 12cm by this point so it was easy to remove.
I now have a scar from the bottom of my belly button to the top of my vagina but I LOVE IT! People ask if I feel self-conscious about it but I really don’t. My scar reminds me of what I’ve been through and how far I’ve come. It’s a part of me. I actually named it Meryl Streep because she is a really inspirational woman and I love her so I should love my scar too.
My mum stayed with me for my entire journey, in and out of hospital. She virtually took six months off work and my sister took time out of university. I’ve never felt closer to them, they wouldn’t leave my side and everything I went through, both emotional and physical, they were ready to pick me up when I was about to fall and give up. My sister slept when I slept, which was most of the day and almost every day (although I don’t think she minded the constant napping - I mean who would?) Mum got me my 20 tablets every morning and reassured me that I would feel better if I took them. I can’t thank my family enough for being who they are, reading to me to get me to sleep, rubbing my back when I was throwing up and hugging me tight when I felt hopeless. I can only take half the responsibility for my recovery; their positivity and support makes up the rest.
I just want people to know they don’t have to go through something like alone."
Our scientists at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre and beyond are working to ensure that women like Bethany have access to kinder, more effective treatments and earlier diagnosis. Will you donate £10 today to help fund our research?