Claudia Gore, 47, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago. She shares the story of her early symptoms, her diagnosis and treatment. Claudia also describes the impact of her ovarian cancer experience on her mental health and why sessions with a psychologist helped so much.
“We all get tired but two years ago I blamed a particularly exhausted period on too much hard work. When I started to bloat and get tummy pain, I knew there was more to it. In some ways, I’m lucky — as a doctor, I was able to get help quickly. But I didn’t feel lucky when I saw fluid on my ultrasound. I knew what it meant. Within two weeks I was in hospital, waiting to be operated on by Dr Christina Fotopoulou. Those two weeks were rough. My husband, an experienced doctor, was shaken to the core. I remember looking at our puppy, and thinking ‘at least he’ll be there, when I won’t’.
But, despite unsurprising feelings of trepidation, I wasn’t fazed by the hospital environment — I work in it after all. Everything went well and, following surgery, I had 18 weeks of chemotherapy through a randomised trial.
Psychological effects of ovarian cancer
“Pre-surgery, I had some psychological help from a renowned expert in clinical hypnosis, but as I approached the end of the chemotherapy, support waned. Thankfully, the research nurses approached me with information about the OvPsych study - a trial to improve psychological wellbeing in patients with ovarian cancer who have just completed chemotherapy. This was an absolute gift, as I had been wondering about how I was going to continue to look after my psychological wellbeing as my body recovered.
Ovarian cancer and mental health
Many people regard psychological matters as a weakness and often we’re caught out by thoughts like ‘I just have to be strong’, ‘I should be able to cope’, ‘the worst is over’ or ‘I’ll be fine, if I just pull myself together.’ But, I disagree. As humans, we are not just a body. We need to look after our minds too. We have strong emotions, some conscious, some hidden. If I injure my back and have bad posture – I’ll go and see a physiotherapist to help with my body-posture. Psychologists help with the ‘posture of the mind’.
Before I even finished chemo I was worried that I’d have a ‘late psychological response’ [an emotional delay when dealing with big life changes]. I anticipated how hard it would be to get back to work. I worried that my confidence would be gone after six months away; that the treatment would affect my concentration. My body was weaker and still recovering – and I didn’t know how to trust myself with this journey I faced.
OvPsych offered me three sessions with a wonderful psychologist called Helen. And I found the three sessions immensely helpful. I also participated in a stress management course and met some lovely people in the same ‘cancer boat’. It allowed me to be happy, enjoy my life and also, to function at work.”