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Caroline Brown: "Research into early detection is paramount."

02 March 2020

Caroline Brown

This year marks 26 years since Caroline's ovarian cancer diagnosis. She reflects on the importance of early diagnosis and the impact that cancer can continue to have on your mental health, even after being given the all-clear.

"It was March 1994 and I had not long celebrated my 37th Birthday. I had been married for 18 years and my daughter Natasha was eight years old at the time. I had felt quite healthy but towards the end of the month, I began to get an uncomfortable feeling in my bottom. After a few visits to my GP that didn't help me at all, I asked him to refer me to a bowel specialist. As my husband had health insurance it was only a week before I was seeing the specialist. The consultant examined me but found nothing untoward, but as a final thought asked if he could do a pelvic exam. He found I had a cyst on one of my ovaries and referred me to a gynaecologist. 

The next week I had a scan that showed cysts on both ovaries, larger on one side. He booked me in to have them removed by a laparoscopy. I had this done twice previously for cysts on my ovary so thought nothing of it. The consultant had to ring my husband mid-way through my operation as it became apparent to him that it was cancer he was dealing with. Permission was given for the consultant to go ahead and give me a full hysterectomy. When I came round of surgery it was explained to me what had happened and that it was good news the cancer had been take out. I was found to have a large cancer on my left side and it had gone to the right ovary too. Once the pathology report was back I was to have six months chemotherapy.

I had woke up into a complete nightmare. I didn't think I would survive. I was plunged into the menopause and the symptoms were hideous. As if this wasn't enough, I developed the worst anxiety feelings, not that I knew that's what it was. I put everything down to the cancer, of which everyone kept telling me how lucky I was as it had been taken out. Oh yes I did feel lucky! I actually didn't know what to think. The evening in the hospital were the worst, I couldn't cope with falling asleep alone. I was very lucky to have my sister Pat who came into the hospital every night for the two weeks I was recovering and she sat with me till I fell asleep. An act of love and kindness that will never be forgotten. 

"Research into early detection is paramount."

Caroline Brown

Then it was home to recover and start the chemotherapy in June. It was an awful time. I thought it was pointless as if I was going to die why put myself through all that. But I would look at my daughter and I knew I had to do it for her. I wanted to see her grow up at least. She and my husband were my reason to fight back. All the family rallied round to help me through those next six months, my sister-in-law Barbara was very good looking after Natasha when I was going into hospital for my chemo, and gave me such mental support when I felt like giving in. By November I had completed my chemotherapy sessions, not without hiccups along the way, but it was done and all signs of cancer had gone.

The thing with overcoming cancer is you never really heal your mind, your body gets all the attention.

I was lucky because I was in a private healthcare system my cancer was found early. If I had been put on a waiting list to see the various doctors I had before the cancer was found, sadly the outcome may not have been as positive as it is today. My consultant told me my cancer was so aggressive by the time I had finally seen a specialist it would have been so far advanced. This is why awareness of changes your body need to be checked out as soon as you can. Also my symptoms were not the usual symptoms that present with ovarian cancer so research into early detection is paramount. 

In April this year, 26 years will have passed since my cancer was found. That's another lifetime I have been able to live and watch my daughter grow up and get married and to be there and watch the births of my two beautiful granddaughters. I do truly feel blessed. My daughter is 35 now, just two years off the age I was when I was diagnosed.

I don't want her to ever have to go through the same!"

The Patient Hub provides information and advice that will help guide you from your diagnosis, through to treatment and beyond. It features information about how ovarian cancer is treated, advice for younger women, where to go for more support and advice, and more.