Bev, from Porthcawl, Wales, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She tells us about her diagnosis, treatment and the importance of taking one day at a time
"My journey started in 2009 when I started to feel unwell with dizzy spells and some abdominal bloating and breast tenderness. I was 42 and was working full-time as a community/team midwife. I remember saying to my midwifery colleagues “I feel as if I’m pregnant”, as I had put on a lot of weight. I felt generally out of sorts but was so busy and stressed with work and looking after my three children I put it down to that and just plodded on.
Eventually I went to the GP and the symptoms were put down to my age (menopause). I did have blood tests but the GP didn’t even put a hand on my stomach, despite me saying I was extremely bloated. I knew that something wasn’t right and I wish that I had gone back to see a different GP. Even as a health professional myself, I didn’t want to make a fuss. The symptoms are often quite subtle but I should have trusted my instincts that something wasn’t right. Early diagnosis is everything when it comes to treating ovarian cancer.
Around four weeks after my visit to the GP I woke up with severe abdominal pain. I was taken by ambulance to hospital and had to have emergency surgery for what they said at the time was a ruptured ovarian cyst. It was several weeks later when my gynaecology consultant told me I had ovarian cancer and my journey began.
The next step was a hysterectomy followed by my first lot of chemotherapy. One of the hardest things was telling my family, especially my children who were four, 11 and 13 at the time. My husband and I definitely found that honesty was the best policy and also discovered that they just needed simple explanations. They weren’t interested in the details and were far more accepting than I’d imagined they’d be. It hasn’t been easy for any of us but we just try to take one day at a time. My 13-year-old Tom, found it particularly difficult coming to terms with me losing my hair, although once it had happened we had lots of fun with them all having photos in my wig.
The chemotherapy was such a daunting prospect to face. I found it harder in the beginning but as time has gone on, I have actually found it easier to cope with. This is mainly because I have discovered what suits me best. Different anti-sickness medication, reduced amounts of steroids for example. There are many different options and I discovered it’s worth discussing these with your oncology team.
"I’ve learnt to appreciate the good times and have made many happy memories with my friends and family"Bev Poulton
I really appreciate the wonderful care I have had at Velindre cancer centre but it also really helps to do your own research and make your needs and wants clear. I have found other things have really helped too. Keeping active, eating healthily, support groups and courses and books on beating cancer. I must be an expert by now!
It was only in 2011, following my first recurrence, that I eventually persuaded my oncologist to put me forward for genetic screening. I only had one relative with breast cancer but they hadn’t accounted for the fact that I had Jewish ancestry, which is also a risk factor. The genetic screening counselling was very helpful but I was still quite shocked when my results came back as BRCA1 positive. It has also had a major impact on my family. It has, however, meant that there are different treatment options available to me, so this information has really helped in the treatments I have subsequently received. I am so glad I know because I have three sons who may be carriers and this affects their future too. My older boys Tom and James are now 22 and 20 but they have chosen not to be tested at the moment. Jack is only 13 and can’t be tested until he’s at least 18. They do understand that they also have an increased risk of male breast cancer and prostate cancer over the age of 40 if they turn out to be BRCA positive. This is something I was previously unaware of.
I have just completed my fourth lot of chemo in eight years and I am prepared to have it again as many times as I need to. It isn’t easy but I just want to be here for my family. I now have a beautiful grandson Archie and daughter-in-law Siona. Our family is growing and I am so proud of them all. My life certainly isn’t all about treatment and ovarian cancer. In many ways I have probably had the happiest and most fulfilled period of my life since my diagnosis. There is life between treatment and I always make sure I have some treats to make up for it! I’ve learnt to appreciate the good times and have made many happy memories with my friends and family. My Christian faith and the love that surrounds me makes everything worth it. I never give up hope.
The next stage for me is deciding whether to go on chemotherapy tablets or a clinical trial. Research is the way forward and it appeals to me to think that I might be able to help future generations to find a cure for ovarian cancer."