I was diagnosed almost 24 months ago with stage 4 ovarian cancer at the age of 27.
I should give you some context to my life up until that point. I was so happy, my life wasn't perfect, I wasn't perfect, but then who is. I had finished medical school, I was about to start training as a psychiatrist. I had great friends and I was having fun. I would see a beautiful sunset and I could appreciate it’s beauty.
It started as pain. I have a high pain threshold. I ignored the abdominal pain for a few weeks, I was embarrassed, it was intermittent right upper quadrant pain; I thought I had gallstones. At medical school you learn the 5 F's associated with gallstones; fair, female, fertile, forty and fat. I had put on some weight since medical school so I was horrified that my slight weight gain was associated. I knew I needed to see the GP but I kept putting it off. It is really common for doctors to not prioritise their own health, I kept telling myself I was too busy. I wish I had of prioritised my health before work.
After a few weeks I managed to book in to see the GP during work hours, it was walking distance from work, easier to quickly duck away. At the GP's I told her about the pain which was troubling but manageable. I also mentioned the small raised lymph node in my right arm pit. The basic investigations showed no reason for concern. So I went back to work and spent the next few months ignoring the continually worsening pain. The pain got to the point where if I sat in a long patient consult I couldn’t stand up straight after.
After months of pain and working ridiculous hours following a job promotion I decided that I needed to take sometime off to look after myself. I thought my symptoms must have been stress related such as irritable bowel. I had been so busy I had been in denial as to how bad the pain was. It wasn’t until well after my diagnosis that I recalled up to 12 months of random nausea and episodes of unexplained dizziness, my Mum reminded me that my eating patterns had even changed, related to the nausea. It was within the first days of my time off that I noticed the nausea, anorexia and weight loss, I acknowledged the severity of the pain and went straight to my GP, I knew it was bad.
My 2 weeks of holidays were filled with fun and me trying my best to ignore my symptoms whilst I waited for an ultrasound scan. The scan came back abnormal but inconclusive, it suggested an X-ray or CT scan. Thankfully my GP and I agreed to a CT scan. The CT was 11am on the 18th Nov 2016 the Friday, Just before 4pm I had packed my bags ready to go on a girls weekend. That’s when I saw a missed call from the GP’s office, I immediately had that sinking feeling. I considered not calling back until Monday but deep down I knew the unknown would eat at me all weekend. I think most people know when the nurse asks you to come in immediately that it is not going to be for pleasant news. I declined my Mum’s offer to come with me I shrugged it off and downplayed the significance.
On arrival I was taken straight to the waiting GP, I found out later that my beautiful GP had been making phone calls all afternoon to try and give me as much information as possible. There is no way to deliver bad news that can magically turn it into good news. I recall my medical training all the lessons on breaking bad news. Although in this case you can’t turn a lemon into lemonade there is still a good or bad communication when breaking bad news. My GP bless her was very supportive, she took the time, she answered all my questions as best she could. She knew I was going to want to know more rather than less and she had prepared. She knew me well enough when I declined bringing my family in, she insisted on asking my Mum to come in. It made the hurdle of telling people so much easier with her breaking the news to my Mum, my Mum would then be able to tell other family members. It is one thing to receive bad news but it is something else telling your loved ones.
What do you do when you first hear that devastating news, you have cancer. Everyone is different. The truth is you don't know what to do, I doubt anyone does. At 27 it was the last thing I expected to hear. That weekend I had an awesome girls weekend planned, I was leaving for it when I returned the GP's call. I thought I had to cancel it, I assumed the thing to do was to sit at home and grieve. I chose to start my cancer battle on a positive note and I went on that girls weekend and I had a great time.