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In Margaret's Name - her story, told by her husband

20 February 2023

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Margaret Anne Scougal was born in 1952. At the age of 16, she became a cadet nurse at the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle. Upon retirement, she had been a business manager, ward sister and matron of orthopaedics. She helped to train scores of nurses starting out. Years later some of those very same nurses treated her for ovarian cancer. Margaret died in June 2021 aged 69. This is her story, as told by her husband, Tony.

"It began when Margaret experienced bloating and constipation. Initially, she thought it was related to the menopause. Either a cyst or a fibroid was suggested. Cysts are dealt with quickly. A fibroid is a non-cancerous growth that develops in the hormones that stimulate the development of the uterine lining during each menstrual cycle. After an ultrasound in Kendal, the radiographer thought it was a fibroid but was not convinced. She referred the matter for further investigation. Blood tests and examinations resulted in a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, which was delivered by an experienced consultant who arranged an oncologist and chemotherapy.

I drove home from the infirmary that day in complete silence. All we had feared and talked about came home to roost. Margaret was devastated but from that day onwards adopted courage and determination of which we were all proud. In May 2018, she began cycles of chemotherapy which lasted until her death. She experienced carboplatin, paclitaxel, bevacizumab (Avastin), and liposomal doxorubicin. Side effects over the years ranged from skin rash to hot flushes, dizziness, stomach pains, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, hair loss and so much more. During one chemotherapy treatment, she paled and moved to unconsciousness. Later she spoke of flashing lights in her eyes. The nurses reacted magnificently and curtailed the treatment allowing her to recover. A succession of regular blood transfusions followed. 

In October 2018, Margaret was called to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead where she was physically evaluated and found to be exceptionally fit due to regular gym sessions, where she enjoyed lifting heavy weights and keeping fit. Her medical record references physical fitness and weightlifting as contributory factors to her lengthened lifespan. A Registrar decided to carry out debulking surgery and a date was fixed. We were overjoyed that survival was possible. However, the operation was cancelled. Examination of the data by the lead surgeon concluded that the ‘bulk’ had invaded the lungs and operating would significantly reduce survival chances. We were devastated again.

The tumour pressurized Margaret's liver and kidney. A stent was inserted at Whitehaven hospital to relieve pain. In February 2019, she interacted with the Institute of Genetic Medicine in Newcastle and provided a family history of cancer that put her family at high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. A month later she was informed the genetic tests revealed no gene alterations to either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Margaret’s family were assessed as having no risk of the cancers mentioned. It was a good day.

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The cancer worsened. More home-based medicines were prescribed. I visited pharmacies asking if they had the medicine in stock. Often, they did not. Annoying! I wanted to be with her when she was in pain, not constantly looking for a pharmacy stocking the medicine. A friend began computer searches to locate where the medicine was available. This improved matters but revealed a quality lacking in many pharmacies. ‘Carers’ need to address this at an early stage.

A palliative care nursing team appeared and in the last month of Margaret’s life virtually took up residence. 

I recall lying beside her, talking of our life together and the times we had enjoyed, of pride in our family.

Tony Scougal, Margaret's husband

She gave me instructions, notes about the funeral, what I would do when certain birthdays occurred, and why her granddaughters should make more jelly because she could eat that easily. Her last instruction was, ‘Look after them’. Her immediate family, her brother, and her best friend were present when she took her last breath.

Not once did she lose her temper or regret any part of her life. I was cuddling her when she died. There is often a true longing for life perhaps only witnessed at death.

Tony Scougal
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Margaret Anne Scougal was ‘Simply the Best’… a woman who lived by the standards she set for herself and others. In her passing, I hope that those reading this do all they can to make the lives of women better in the years ahead. You too can be ‘Simply the Best’ and help to improve the lives of many by supporting Ovarian Cancer Action.  My family raised over £8,000 using a JustGiving page and an equal amount has been donated directly to Ovarian Cancer Action by others. Proceeds from the books I write are donated to the charity. Every pound helps in research and, through our family gym, we continue fundraising through a Spring Charity Ball, walks and other events. Come and join us."

In Margaret's Name, do something amazing this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month