Emily was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in January 2019, aged 23. Now a month post-chemo, she reflects on how the incredible support from family and friends has helped her get through a gruelling year.
"Throughout my first year living in London I had complained to anyone that would listen about my tummy aches and ‘digestive problems’. Finally, after about a year, which included numerous visits to the GP and a diagnosis of ‘severe IBS’, I walked into A&E. I was swiftly admitted to the gynaecology ward, and a week later became a patient of The Royal Marsden.
After various examinations, scans and tests and the fear of ‘cancer’ hanging in front of me, I was prepared for a nine-hour surgery on 2nd January 2019, to remove the tumour and get a diagnosis to see if the tumour was cancerous.
When I came round from the anaesthetic, I was told that it was worse than they thought and a full hysterectomy was indeed needed. This was the first time I really truly worried that I was going to die and the first time I really felt scared. With the planned hysterectomy I visited a fertility specialist, where I was told that my eggs could not be saved. I lost my fertility aged 23. It was also confirmed that it was stage 3 ovarian cancer and a low-grade serous carcinoma to be specific.
A week later I was re-operated on and my twelve-centimetre tumour was removed, along with my ovaries and any other visible signs of cancer that had spread up to my diaphragm and around my liver. During the operation, my doctor discovered that the cancer had also spread through part of my bowel. I woke up having been fitted with a stoma bag, which I was told was irreversible.
Recovery from the operation was tough, lying in the hospital bed trying to process the fact I would never have children, I had cancer and I now had a stoma bag. These were all hard pills to swallow, especially as I was too weak to get up, even sometimes to talk. I spent the first few days staring at the wall unable to speak. I felt all the love and support around me but searching for the strength to fight, I was silenced and frozen by fear. I felt so guilty for what I was putting everyone through, guilty that people were worrying about me or even thinking about me. Guilt that I still carry with me today. I soon found my strength however and made great progress in hospital and was able to go home.
"What is the right way to thank people for saving your life?"Emily Plane
A month later, as a precaution, I started six gruelling rounds of chemotherapy. I chose to have my hair shaved beforehand so that I could donate it to The Little Princess Trust, who made my incredible wig. The wig I was given (made by Raoul Wigmakers) gave me the strength and perseverance to get through the following months. I just kept telling myself ‘you’ve got through a huge operation you can do this’ and ‘only five more’ and so on. There was definitely a sense of ‘fake it till you make it’. I would put on my wig and made sure I looked great. The idea in my head was that if I looked great, I would feel great. My sole focus was getting to the end of treatment.
Being diagnosed with my type of cancer at 23 meant many of my friends had not been exposed to such an illness. I had overwhelming support from everyone but I had three main friends who were essentially fighting it with me, they stepped up and were rocks, by my side every second of the six-month roller-coaster ride. I found strength in wanting to be strong for my friends and family, particularly my mother, and I was determined to get better for them. We fought it together. They went through it as much as I did. I can definitely say that if it wasn’t for that support system, I would not be here today. I am eternally grateful to everyone and my gratitude is immeasurable. What is the right way to thank people for saving your life?
I received my all-clear a month ago and whilst I still remain on a preventative treatment, I feel pretty much back to my (new) normal self. I will always carry the pain of not being able to have children and the embarrassment of a stoma bag, but that pain will be less intense as time goes on. I am so grateful to every nurse and doctor that has helped me on this journey and allowed me to still be here today.
I now look back on the six months and feel such a sense of achievement as opposed to sadness, and yes I am still completely petrified and weighed down with the worry that it could come back, but at least I now know that I can do it."
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