Jo Blankley was diagnosed with ovarian cancer aged 29. Eight years on from diagnosis, she shares her story to encourage other women to listen to their bodies and to act on anything that doesn't feel right...
"No one knows how they’ll react when they’re told they have cancer. Most of us probably can’t help but imagine it, or at least fear it. And when that moment came for me, I certainly felt afraid. Afraid of dying, of course. Afraid of telling my family and friends and causing them emotional pain and worry. And afraid of the overall uncertainty that such a diagnosis brings.
But one of my biggest fears was that having ovarian cancer would mean I’d never be able to have children of my own. Becoming a mum is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted, so the thought of motherhood being an impossibility at the age of 29 wasn’t something I felt ready to face.
Thankfully, my cancer was caught early. It was a stage 1c so my consultant, (who I will be indebted to forever), gave me the option to have fertility saving surgery. In practice, this meant I was able to avoid a complete hysterectomy. Instead, I had one ovary removed, followed by six rounds of Chemotherapy and was then monitored closely for the next two years.
At the end of that long wait, my husband and I were given the green light to start trying for a baby.
"When I look back to that time, I realise how easy it would have been to have ignored my symptoms"Jo Blankley
Fast forward six years, and I now have two beautiful children — my four-year-old boy and two-year-old girl. To say I feel lucky would be the world’s biggest understatement and I constantly think how different things might have been.
When I look back to that time, I realise how easy it would have been to have ignored my symptoms, (just a small amount of spotting between periods). I had no pain, no bloating, no family history of ovarian cancer — but I knew something wasn’t right. My doctor referred me straight away.
A blood test revealed a CA125 count of 35. This wasn't high enough to be a huge cause for concern, but enough to warrant a scan. And that scan showed a small cyst that turned out to be malignant.
The months that followed obviously weren’t easy but I managed to maintain relative normality whilst undergoing my treatment and I was hopeful that it would just be a blip; something that I had to go through but that wouldn’t define my whole life.
This year, after annual monitoring and no sign of recurrence, I decided to complete the hysterectomy to minimise the risk of the cancer rearing its ugly head again.
I am acutely aware that ovarian cancer has caused so much heartache for so many women and their loved ones. That’s why, when my children grow up and I tell them about my illness, I’ll do so to reinforce the message that no one knows your body like you do. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t wait, because, as scary as a cancer diagnosis can be, it doesn’t have to mean the end of your future hopes and dreams."