News & stories Personal stories Ann It all started in October 2017. I wasn’t feeling too good. I’d always been a really healthy person and had never taken any kind of medication at all, but my tummy began to swell and got really big. My husband and I had been on a trip to Cornwall. I really didn’t have an appetite at all while we were there. I felt very full, which was quite unusual for me. However I didn’t associate that with ovarian cancer at all. I just thought that I’d probably picked up a stomach bug. When we got back from the holiday I had constipation. That’s also when the swelling started. At night I had to prop my tummy up with pillows, because it was really painful to lie on it. I went to see my GP, who looked at me and said, “Gosh, you look about 10 months pregnant”. Obviously being in my late 60s, that was not possible. So she sent me for blood tests and a scan, which was booked for a date in two months’ time. I was in so much pain by that point and feeling really, really sick. My youngest son happened to phone up around this time. His wife is a doctor. I told him about my symptoms and my GP visit. He handed the phone to my daughter in law. She said, “You need to go to A&E now”. I went to A&E, vomiting all the way. It was a long journey because we live in Gloucestershire, so our nearest hospital is about an hour away. Once I got there they got me bed fairly soon. They gave me a scan and said that I likely had cancer, although they didn’t know that it was ovarian cancer at that point. Obviously, I was very upset. They drained about six litres of fluid from my abdomen, which made me feel much better. I was initially told they suspected bowel cancer. I was then seen by a gynaecologist. He said that I in fact had ovarian cancer. He advised that the ascites (fluid) would probably come back, so I needed to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. About a week later the ascites had built up again significantly. I went back into hospital to get it drained – six litres again. The consultant told me then that I wasn’t to leave the hospital until I’d had my first dose of chemotherapy. I was put on carboplatin and paclitaxel and was to have three cycles before my surgery. I would then have another three cycles after the operation. I felt so much better after my first dose, which is strange because you expect to feel terrible after having chemotherapy. That one dose stopped the ascites from coming back, which made me feel a lot better. I lost my hair, but I didn’t really care as long as I could be cured. In January I had my surgery. I was in hospital for seven or eight days. I was in intensive care for a day, then transferred to the ward. Once I got out of hospital I recovered from the operation relatively quickly. The surgeon said that the fact I didn’t have high blood pressure, wasn’t overweight, didn’t drink and didn’t smoke really helped. After my chemo ended I was offered Avastin – 18 doses, once every three weeks. I had a recurrence later that year, at Christmas, so I went about nine months without any kind of treatment. I noticed the ascites building up, so I suspected the cancer was back. I found out that I have the BRCA2 gene variation. There wasn’t any history in my family, the only reason I found out was because I took part in the 1,000 Genomes project. I’ve since found out that my first cousin (male) has also been identified as BRCA2 positive. So clearly my mum and her sister must have been carriers, but neither of them had cancer. So it was quite a shock. I went to see a breast surgeon because obviously BRCA increases the risk of breast cancer. I had regular mammograms to check my breasts after that. When I was first diagnosed, my CA125 had been 700. When my cancer recurred, my CA125 was 275. I was given caelyx and carboplatin the second time round. I only had four sessions before Covid hit. They made a judgement call at that time that the risk of me contracting Covid while I was extremely vulnerable outweighed the benefit of having the last two chemos. After that I was put on olaparib, and I’ve been on that ever since. My CA125 has been 4 for some time now. Thankfully I don’t get any side effects whatsoever from the olaparib. I have plenty of energy for someone of my age and I feel absolutely fine. My oncology team have been amazing. They have a fantastic helpline, you can call up 24/7. I thought my cancer had come back again in September, while I was on the olaparib, because I was in awful pain, was being sick and couldn’t eat anything. I was admitted to hospital and after some scans the oncologist came and told me, “Good news, it’s not cancer – but you have an enormous gallstone that’s about to perforate your bowel. So we need to urgently transfer you to another hospital because we can’t perform emergency surgeries here.” I had the surgery, which went well. It turned out that two large gallstones had gotten into my bowel – one was the size of a hen’s egg, the other was the size of a quail’s egg. Apparently it’s very unusual for this to happen, so I was asked if I would speak to medical students about it! I’ve used the Ovacome forum quite a bit. It’s helpful to hear about other people who’ve had a similar experience and who are taking the same drugs as me, for example. It’s helpful to hear how they’re getting on with it and what side effects they’ve had.