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Paula Cann: "I’m so grateful that I went to my GP as soon as I noticed something wasn’t right"

16 August 2017

Paula Cann

Paula Cann was experiencing the classic symptoms of ovarian cancer but she was diagnosed with a cyst that was only removed due to its size. Two weeks later she discovered that the cyst was cancerous and that she needed chemotherapy...

“I’d started needing to wee more often and more urgently. Most evenings I walk the same route around my local woods, but I could no longer make it around without desperately needing the loo.

 “And then I felt a lump in my stomach when I was lying down. I wasn’t too worried as I felt really well, apart from some tiredness, which I put down to my hectic job as a primary school teacher.

Even though I wasn’t in pain, I thought it best to visit my GP. She wasn’t overly concerned and thought it was an ovarian cyst. I had a CA125 blood test and a scan that showed I had a large cyst— 18cm by 11cm. At this point they thought it was benign but it needed removing due to its size.

I was told there was a very small chance the cyst was cancerous but it would be safer to have a full hysterectomy. I was 46 and although I have two wonderful children, I also felt sadness that having another child would no longer be an option.

Thank goodness my cyst was too big to ignore, as two weeks later I was told that I was stage 2; as cancerous cells were found in my ovary and on my fallopian tubes.  Although they were optimistic it was all removed, I was told I would need chemotherapy to make sure. It felt surreal to hear those words and my husband’s grip on my hand tightened.

The hardest part was telling my amazing family. My siblings were in floods of tears — we have a special bond since we lost both our parents to cancer. I got choked up telling our two daughters, 20 and 17, and my husband had to say the words nobody wants to hear. I did manage to add, 'although it’s not the best news, it’s the second best and it’s all been taken out!'

"I’m so grateful that I went to my GP as soon as I noticed something wasn’t right"

Paula Cann

I think it really hit home when I went for my first consultation. I passed people in wheelchairs, who looked very poorly and some who had lost their hair. We were given time to consider our chemotherapy options; Taxol and Carboplatin where you lose your hair but you get a double whammy of treatment  or just Carboplatin, which allows you to keep your hair. I remember feeling vain worrying about my hair but it’s part of me! However, in the end I decided that my hair would grow back and that I needed to go with the combined treatment.

I had six sessions of chemotherapy and I didn’t end up losing all my hairjust patches. I was initially worried that I’d feel awful throughout chemo but I met a lovely lady during my first session who reassured me it wouldn’t be all that bad; I might feel sickly the first week, the second week would be better and by the third I’d be feeling almost normal – and she was right!

Paula Cann2

The sickness tablets kept the nausea at bay but I didn’t like the ‘foggy’ feeling I had after each chemo session. I kept telling myself ‘this is temporary and you will get through it’.

Not long after I’d begun my chemotherapy I took a test to find out if I carried a BRCA 1 and/or 2 gene mutation because  I was relatively young to have ovarian cancer and because my parents both passed away from cancer (Mum died of lung cancer and Dad of gastric cancer). I knew that if it came back that I was a carrier, it would have implications for my daughters, sister and brother. It was a long and worrying wait but I was delighted to find out that I was not a carrier and myself and my family were at no more risk of developing other cancers than anyone else.

Support from my family, friends and the staff at the clinic got me through — they would have me in stiches!

I finished my last session of chemotherapy in November 2016 and returned to work the following April. People keep telling me how well I look and I feel that good, that I sometimes forget that I even had cancer.

I’m so grateful that I went to my GP as soon as I noticed something wasn’t right and in the words of my consultant ‘hopefully this has just been a blip’ and I can put it behind me. There is so much awareness of breast and other cancers but not ovarian. I hope by sharing my story it may help someone else.”

Paula is an Ovarian Cancer Action Voice. Find out how you can join her and help raise awareness of ovarian cancer.