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Olivia – ‘Mum was not only a parent but, as an only child, she was my best friend, and Dad’s best friend too.’

17 March 2023

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Ellen Javed passed away from ovarian cancer in May 2020, in the midst of the Covid pandemic and weeks after her daughter Olivia had turned 21. In this heartfelt tribute, Olivia tells her story and how her mum’s strength and resilience shone through, even at the hardest of times.

“My mum was the most positive, caring, funny and maternal lady you could ever wish to meet. She loved walking and spending time in the sun, and always made healthy lifestyle choices. When we returned from holiday in October 2015, mum began suffering with bloating and stomach pain. She saw her GP straight away, who believed it was IBS and went down the gastro route of diagnosis. Mum knew in her heart that something more serious was wrong, and only as a result of making numerous demands for a womb scan, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in February 2016. This was four months longer than it should have been. Four months too late.

Our family was devastated by this diagnosis. I was 16 at the time, Mum was 58. 

At the start of this journey, we knew very little about ovarian cancer and felt like those words meant death sentence.

Olivia, Ellen's daughter

Still, Mum was determined not to let this beat her – she viewed chemotherapy as a means to an end, chatting and laughing with the nurses. Even when she lost her hair, shopping for wigs turned into a fun day out. Mum had debulking surgery that summer, and I remember thinking this feels like a punishment simply for being a woman! Mum recovered steadily and was able to enjoy a period of remission the following year. I deferred going to university to spend this time with her and was so glad I did so.

Three months into my first year at uni, we received bad news – mum’s cancer had returned. Being away from home, I heard this over the phone – all I could do was howl. Mum didn’t deserve this. I felt that the first time, we had a lucky escape, but this time felt sinister.

Mum’s biggest wish for me was that it wouldn’t affect my education, so I carried on studying for my law degree. 

But it was extremely hard being away from home. In January 2020, Mum spent her birthday in hospital as she had contracted a spleen infection. This turned out to be her final birthday. I got the train home and surprised her in hospital, and I remember being greeted with a big smile. Things only got worse after this. The one blessing of the pandemic was that I was able to continue studying from home as campus shut down. Dad and I became Mum’s carers, as we had to limit the number of visitors and nurses to the home. This was emotionally and physically tough. 

Mum was suffering from debilitating sickness at this stage, her worst symptom, and something the nurses struggled to control. It was horrific seeing mum turn skeletal in front of us, with nothing we could do. She had not eaten or been to the loo for weeks and it was a miracle that she was persevering as she was.

Mum was still feeling optimistic in April, when she was due to see the consultant to discuss possibilities. 

Sat in the garden in the sun, Mum’s consultant rang. He had looked at the scans and tests, and said she was looking at weeks to live. It was a question of making her comfortable. My body shook with fear. I was approaching my 21st birthday and could not imagine Mum being missing for the rest of my life. 

She was fading before us, and yet was a pillar of strength. She was holding me whilst I was crying!

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The consultant was always very matter of fact in relating information to mum, which she appreciated, but I felt that just a brief phone call in this situation just wasn’t sensitive to the situation. She was told in January that she would be unlikely to see the year out but didn’t tell me this as she wanted to protect me. I also knew she was hoping to defy these odds, as you do hear of this happening.

Mum spent a week in a local hospice for respite care. When Dad and I sat in the car after dropping her off, we both sobbed and sobbed. We had to take turns spending just two hours a day with her, holding her hand through gloves, due to COVID-19. It was heartbreaking. She came out of the hospice on my birthday and put so much effort in being on top form that day. Amazing, and a day I will never forget.

Mum passed away peacefully at home in May 2020, aged just 62. Five weeks after my 21st birthday.

The past three years have been the hardest of our lives. 

Some days I did not want to be here. It felt unfair, cruel, unbearable. Mum was not only a parent but, as an only child, she was my best friend, and Dad’s best friend too. 

But I have also grown a lot. I managed to graduate with First Class Honours, complete a Master’s in Law with high distinction, and begin as a trainee solicitor in a London law firm. The only thing spurring me on was Mum’s wish, as I was otherwise close to giving up. We have raised lots of money for charity as part of Mum’s legacy. I truly believe that those of us who have been left behind, have the responsibility to try and combat this dreadful disease. At the very least, ovarian cancer awareness and treatments need to match those for other cancers, because women are being left behind.

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Mum deserved to live a long and healthy life. Instead, she was robbed of a retirement, of being able to spend time with my dad in the sun, of being able to be a living part of my future. Additionally, Dad and I will be on a healing journey for the rest of our lives. 

Each day, 11 women die of ovarian cancer. They are mothers, wives, sisters, friends. I will continue to fight for mum’s legacy, but we all must take action now, whenever and however we can. Let’s stop women fading before us.” 

Do something amazing this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, in Ellen’s Name. 

A gift of £10 can help us fund pioneering breakthroughs that transform the way we diagnose and treat women. Together we can make ovarian cancer a survivable disease, for all women.