Mum-of-three Harriet was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer in 2022.
Harriet was told that she had two ovarian cysts during a routine pregnancy ultrasound. But shockingly, she did not discover that she had an ovarian tumour until her daughter Maddison was born.
Here, she shares her story about facing the reality of her diagnosis and a long and gruelling treatment, but how her children are an incredible source of motivation and inspiration.
“At my 12 week scan, the doctor found a cyst on each of my ovaries. By the time of my 20 week scan for Maddison, they found that the cyst on my right ovary had grown bigger.
I was scheduled to have a further scan but Maddison decided to make an early appearance. She was born 13 weeks premature and was taken to the neonatal ward for 80 days.
Just a few days after Maddison’s birth, I woke up in unbearable pain - to the point where I couldn’t walk properly. It was awful. We were hoping to travel to visit her in the neonatal unit. I was desperate to see her, so my partner Nick and I still travelled to the hospital.
But Nick knew that something wasn’t right and encouraged me to get checked out by the doctors. I was seen and they found that what they thought was a cyst had grown further - to 15cm.
They had found two cysts during a previous pregnancy in 2020 too, but due to the coronavirus pandemic I never want to check back if they disappeared. So I don’t know if these were new cysts - or if they had been there this whole time.
I was readmitted very quickly that night and they decided the following morning that I would have to undergo surgery to remove the ovarian cyst.
I also had to have my right ovary removed as it had attached itself to one of the cysts. A couple of weeks later, I was told that the ‘cyst’ was, in fact, a stage 1 ovarian cancer tumour. I couldn’t believe it. I just remember thinking, I’m 32 years old - this can’t be happening to me.
“I knew I had to do whatever treatment was possible so that I could stay alive for my children.”
I decided very quickly that I was going to have six rounds of chemotherapy - it was obvious to me that it was my only option. It was either this, or CT scans every three months to monitor the tumour and see if it was growing further.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing with the treatment. I was admitted back into hospital twice while having chemotherapy. I suffered from a blood clot. I was so ill - and it put so much stress on not just me, but my whole family.
I was also given the choice between having another operation to either remove my remaining ovary or have a hysterectomy. I decided to have a full hysterectomy and I underwent the surgery earlier this year.
“Our journey isn’t over yet as a family, but together we will get through it.”
As you can imagine, after going through this life-changing operation, I thought it would all be over. But it wasn’t. My oncologist recommended that I have a further six rounds of chemo as a precaution - as well as routine CT scans over the next four years to see if the tumour is spreading. To be honest, I did seriously contemplate not having the additional chemotherapy due to how ill I was last time. But I decided that if it’s being offered to me, I would be silly not to take it.
I started the chemotherapy feeling like that this time round I would know what to expect. But I was wrong - I went into full anaphylactic shock at my last treatment. It seems as though I’ve built up an allergy to the drugs, due to the break I had between mid November last year to March this year.
I have opted to continue chemotherapy but with a different drug that is apparently more aggressive meaning the side effects will be more severe and hair loss is guaranteed. Losing my hair has been one of my biggest insecurities throughout my treatment - but my children are helping me to not let it get me down and depressed.
Having three children under five years old keeps my mind busy. I remember after having my fifth round of chemotherapy, I wasn’t feeling well so I went to bed and my son said ‘Mummy you’re not feeling well, so I’m going to lay next to you and make sure you’re okay’. He tucked me in and kissed my forehead. He sat with me for two whole hours while I was asleep.
While my children have given me strength and motivation to keep going, I don’t think I’ve fully processed what I’ve been through. It’s a bit like grief - one day it’s going to hit me and I’ll experience all of the emotions.
But I know I have been incredibly lucky to have been diagnosed at stage 1, and to have such a strong support system. There are five people I’d like to thank - my mum and mother-in-law for being the strongest and most resilient women I know. My sister, who suffers with multiple sclerosis, encourages me through all that she has been through. My father-in-law takes on all my worry, keeps me healthy, and helps me to find the positives.
Lastly my partner Nick, who is my absolute rock. He has been with me every single step of the way. Even though we are not yet married he has literally been there for me ‘in sickness and in health’.
I count my blessings every day. The love and support we have also received as a family has been overwhelming, including while I’ve been sharing my story with my friends new and old on social media. I don’t think I would have stayed so positive without this and my family.”
Here at Ovarian Cancer Action, we’re determined to develop ground-breaking new treatments, be on the path to a screening programme and build better care pathways.
Last year alone, our incredible researchers contributed 11 new ovarian cancer discoveries which will transform the lives of women with the disease and their families.
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