Lisa Robson: "I have become much more open about my diagnosis"

22 May 2020
Lisa & white rose.jpg

Lisa was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2016. She shares her story, from the knock-on effects of treatment, to how she became more open about her diagnosis after a recurrence, and played to her creative strengths to help raise awareness. 

I’ve never been a planner. Usually things just seem to present themselves - happy accidents, jobs, life events. So 2020 was never down as being the year I was going to do ‘X’. At the same time, it would have been a far stretch of the imagination to think I would be four years into an ovarian cancer diagnosis and shielding from a deadly virus. It’s better placed in a movie script!

I’ve been described as annoyingly optimistic, which has its pros and cons. On the one hand, it means you can always find the silver lining, that little nugget of hope that can be nurtured into something that keeps you going. On the other, I believe it made me more likely to accept the numerous platitudes from the GP’s and clinical professionals I visited before the ‘c bomb’. A pulled muscle, a water infection, menopause, age…whatever the reason, I believed it because going to the worst case scenario is just not in my mind set.

The final diagnosis was drip fed between May and June 2016 in a matter of two scans, three blood tests, four consults and a surgery - going from a small operation to remove two troublesome cysts to stage 3c high grade serous epithelial ovarian cancer. 

I was in the fog of diagnosis for about a year. I had a holiday to Spain booked for three weeks after surgery and a week before my next appointment. Looking back, I really thought I’d get there (I was in TK Max buying swim suits to hide the surgery scar). I think anyone facing debulking surgery should basically write off any plans for year to avoid disappointment. Then if you feel well enough to go for it!  

“I gave myself permission to talk about stuff like the word incurable.”

Lisa Robson

My physical and mental health were really affected by the shock of an early menopause too. I suddenly felt like a very old lady. Joint pain was unbelievable and getting off the sofa was a challenging task. I’m pleased to say I improved over the following few years. Things have calmed down for me now, although they can flare up from time to time, usually when I’m in recurrence. 

For the first two years I didn’t talk much about my diagnosis. I wanted to be seen and feel ‘normal’ and not have cancer be my story. This changed at my first recurrence. When I knew I was in it for the long haul, I gave myself permission to talk about stuff like the word incurable which helped define what that means for me. I have become much more open about my diagnosis. I share my story to anyone who will listen in the hope of raising awareness. 

Asking my creative friends, family and students (I’m a lecturer in Art & Design at Newcastle College) to take part in OCA’s white rose campaign for World Ovarian Cancer Day was the first time I’ve asked anyone to get involved in ovarian cancer awareness, and I was delighted by the response. The campaign – highlighting the symptoms with homemade roses - was creative, which appealed to me. The fatigue rules out active stuff so this was perfect - playing to my strengths and talking about something I feel passionate about! 

90% of women don’t know the four main symptoms of ovarian cancer. But you can help change that. Click here to find out how you, like Lisa, can create and share a white rose this May to help raise awareness.