Meet Laura, a primary school teacher from North London who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 27. Originally misdiagnosed with IBS, despite carrying a hereditary risk of developing ovarian cancer, she is now determined to raise awareness of BRCA mutations and ovarian cancer for women of all ages. Laura featured as part of our BBC Lifeline Appeal, now she wants to share her full story.
About a year ago, my great aunt in Australia was diagnosed with breast cancer. Discussions regarding the family history of breast and ovarian cancer prompted her oncologist to carry out genetic testing. My great aunt tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation so her oncologist advised her to inform family members.
My grandfather tested positive, which meant my father and aunt had to be tested. My aunt tested negative, but my father tested positive. My three siblings and I then had to go through the process. I am the only one who carries the BRCA1 mutation out of my siblings. I remember the day when I answered the phone and received the news that I carried the BRCA1 gene mutation. I did not know what to think or feel. In a strange way it felt like I had been told that I had cancer.
I didn't feel like I could wait until the age of 30 to screen my breasts so I took control immediately. I started to have my breasts screened every six months and I had my ovaries and CA125 levels checked once a year. I felt more at ease knowing I was being checked. I never imagined that I would be told that I have ovarian cancer at 27.
"I am very thankful to the A&E doctors who noticed the worrying features on the CT scan when I went to A&E for the second time"Laura
My symptoms began with severe stomach cramps. This did not sit right with me because I was not due a period. After a few days, I experienced intermittent cramps and I was feeling full very quickly after eating. Eventually, I started to notice that my abdomen was hard and there was slight bloating (this bloating was not alarming).
A few days later, the constipation began which lasted for well over a week. It was during this week that the bloating got worse and would not go away. Halfway through the week, I looked four months pregnant. Whilst experiencing this bloating, I suffered severe pelvic pain. It got so bad that I struggled to sit down for longer than a couple of minutes.
During these few weeks three different doctors told me, categorically, that it was not my ovaries. I am very thankful to the A&E doctors who noticed the worrying features on the CT scan when I went to A&E for the second time.
After two and a half years clear of cancer, I had a small relapse. This was removed in surgery and followed by preventative chemotherapy. I now take a maintenance drug daily and I'm under close monitoring, but I have been cancer free again for over a year. Referring to my cancer as ‘Cyril’, was my dad's idea, a way to help me cope with my cancer diagnosis. With this in mind, I set up a website – Finding Cyril – to raise awareness of BRCA mutations and ovarian cancer for women of all ages. What has happened to me at 27 is very rare, but it can happen.
There is not one minute where I question my decision to get tested. It meant I was able to get regular checks and at the time 'Cyril' was diagnosed in my ovaries, I knew about the BRCA1 mutation. It was very tough to find out about the mutation at age 26, but it allowed me to make choices about my body. We have to remember that knowledge is power.
I want women of all ages to be vigilant. If you experience symptoms connected to ovarian cancer, please get yourself checked. Share my story and let's reach as many women as possible.
Laura’s story was shown on BBC One on the 31st of January. Watch her full story on the iPlayer now.