Published December 2021

Looking back at my story I can see how unbelievably lucky I was to be diagnosed when I was. It was a matter of pure chance and seeing the right doctor at the right time. I was 28 years old and had recently had a stomach infection and had taken antibiotics. I went back to the doctor after finishing my course because I wanted to talk to him about anxiety I was struggling with, but also because I still had some minor stomach pains. My doctor decided to do a blood test and send it off to do a ‘full MOT’ of everything in my abdomen. I have since learned that, due to my age and symptoms, him doing this was quite unusual. As it turns out, it saved my life.

I completely forgot about the blood test until I received a call from my doctor. At the time I was doing my masters to qualify as a social worker. I was in my final few months, doing my last placement with 30 days to go before I could finish. I got a call from my doctor saying my CA125 levels had come back unusually high. Despite them telling me this could be for a number of reasons, I knew at that point that something was really wrong. I was sent for an ultrasound, but the doctor couldn’t see anything. The same happened with a CT scan a week later. I then went for an MRI scan the week after that. I was invited to a doctor’s appointment at the hospital to discuss my results, with absolutely no idea what was wrong with me at all. Unfortunately, the doctor at the hospital must have thought I knew what was happening, as when I sat down, he told me, “You have a 22cm cyst on your ovary, the size of a large watermelon, and we don’t know if it is malignant or not. Either way, you will need a big operation to remove it.”

Leaving the appointment, I was completely numb. So many people have asked me, “How could you not have felt it something of that size?” Honestly, I thought I had gained a little weight, but the moment I found out, something changed psychologically. I could feel it. I couldn’t get comfortable laying down, I felt it pressing on my bladder, I suddenly felt all the symptoms of an ovarian cyst that I hadn’t felt before.

I was lucky to live close to a hospital that specialises in cancer treatment. This is where I had my operation. They were brilliant, and the operation itself genuinely wasn’t bad at all. The worst part was the two or three days after coming home from the hospital trying to get myself out of bed. They had to perform a laparotomy, with a healing time of six weeks minimum. After all of this, I still had no idea if the cyst was cancerous or not, and I had five weeks to wait while they sent it off for testing. They then invited me for an appointment to go through my results.

I chose to go to the appointment on my own. I have been told by many professionals that I should not have done this and should have taken family with me for support. However, even now, I know I might the right decision going by myself. I am an only child, and at the time was not in a relationship. My options were to either go by myself, or to go with my parents. If I went with my parents, they would be waiting outside the room while I found out the news. I knew that if the news was bad, it would be written all over my face as I walked out and that’s what they would see, and I just couldn’t cope with the idea of them seeing that. So I decided I wanted to find out by myself, and tell them by myself in a way that I felt comfortable with.

The surgeon came into the room and told me that they had the test results back and that my cyst had been cancerous. He said that by the time they had removed it, it had a small tear and a small amount of fluid had leaked out, but they didn’t think it had spread. However, to be sure, I needed to have further tests and they recommended chemotherapy. Of course, at that point I started to cry and the surgeon left the room while I spoke to the Macmillan nurse. She was wonderful and so supportive.

I had further tests and then started my chemotherapy. I begged my oncologist to allow me one week to go on holiday before starting chemotherapy, which he allowed me to do (which, as it turns out, was the last holiday I would take for 2 years due to Covid). I had an amazing 6 days in Spain and came back and started my 6 months of chemotherapy. However, before starting my chemotherapy it was advised that I have my eggs frozen. The cyst had destroyed one of my ovaries, and chemotherapy can affect fertility. By this point I was 29 years old and in a very new relationship. I was desperate to finish my qualification and all I had on my mind was my career. I was in no way ready to think about children. However, I knew that if I didn’t make that choice and freeze my eggs, it may be a decision I could regret for the rest of my life. So I went through the process and was able to have seven eggs frozen.

I was really lucky with my chemotherapy. I didn’t lose very much hair, I didn’t really have any sickness, and I generally I didn’t feel too bad throughout. A few weeks after my final chemotherapy session, I had a CT scan and there was no sign of any cancer, it had gone. I still felt numb being told this, despite celebrating - I don’t think it had even sunk that I had had cancer in the first place. It’s only now, two years on, that I’m starting to emotionally deal with the trauma I experienced. Which I why I have chosen to share my story. I feel so lucky that my cancer was caught so quickly, and that my physical experience lasted such little time, however the emotional impact has been beyond what I could have ever expected. So I am grateful to be able to share this in the hope it may resonate with others who have felt the same way. For about two years I saw my cancer as a ‘minor blip’ in my life that I just needed to get over. Now I see just how much it has impacted my mental health and am so grateful to have found some support.