Story first published in October 2018, updated in January 2022.

My name is Jackie. I’m from North London and work in the City. I left it quite late in life before considering to have children.

I was 39 when I was diagnosed with stage 1c ovarian cancer, clear cell carcinoma in 2009.

My diagnosis came after many years of suffering from gynaecological problems and a history of lung problems, so my experiences were complicated.  I had developed fibroids in my 30s, and these were removed during keyhole surgery.  During that time, I was found to have endometriosis at stage 4.  I was relieved, in a way, that this had explained the pain I was having.

Before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I began experiencing heavy bleeding, cramps and pain, as well as extreme fatigue.

As time went on, I noticed I was putting on weight around my tummy.  I had to undo my trouser button when sitting at my desk.  After a while, I began to wear long tops to hide that my trouser button was open.  My clothes felt really tight and uncomfortable. When I went running, I thought my jogging bottoms had shrunk in the wash as they were getting tighter, and I felt increasing pressure on my bladder.  Soon, I could only run for a few minutes before needing the loo, even though I had already gone before.  I also had occasional bowel upset, and suspected IBS.

I was sent for an ultrasound scan and was told that they could not see my ovaries.  I had repeated scans and was told the same thing.  In the end, I went for a scan privately.

The private scan showed a cystic mass, which was a large tumour in my abdomen.  By this time, I must have looked about four or five months pregnant.  I was referred to a gynaecologist who did a CA125 blood test which I was told was high, but could have been raised due to the endometriosis.

I was told I would have to wait a month or two for surgery to remove the mass.  At that time, I was in agony, doubled over from abdominal pain, and was offered painkillers.  I hoped I could hang on until then.  I could feel something inside my abdomen catching on other organs as I moved.

It got so bad that my mum took me to the GP, and insisted that I be admitted to hospital because of the severe pain I was in. My mum insisted that she would not take me home in the state I was in. I did feel like I shouldn’t be taking up the hospital bed when someone else needed it more.  I saw posters on the walls referring to cancer, and just thought, “It’s nothing to do with me, I haven’t got that”.

The next day, I was very sick, I couldn’t eat, and had severe back pain. I had been on a gynae Ward and had to be transferred to the chest ward where I was found to have pleural effusion, fluid around my lungs, and had my chest drained.  After about 2 weeks I was sent home to recover.

Before surgery in December 2009, I was told I would lose my right ovary but they would try to save my left one. However, because of the mass sticking to my other organs, they had to remove them both, as well as my appendix.  Part of the tumour was stuck to my bowel and a bowel surgeon had to be involved.  I had to come to terms with the fact that it had to be done and that the choice to have children had gone.

After surgery, I remember waiting a long time for the results.  Eventually, the consultant came to my bedside and told me that cancer cells had been present. I was told I would need another operation as the tumour had ruptured during surgery and they would need to be sure that all the cancer had been removed.

After the news, the consultant then phoned my mum, while she was at work, to tell her the news.  She was devastated.  They should have told us together.

I had the surgery, but afterwards suffered an infection which caused me to experience recto-vaginal fistula. This was very distressing for me.  I was given a month to recover, then started chemo in March 2010.  The easy part was just sitting there on a drip, feeling drowsy.  I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad’.  Three days later, however, it did hit me: joint pain, nausea, tasteless food.  For a few weeks, my hair was still standing strong and I thought I’d got away with it. However shortly after, I began to lose some hair, and the realisation hit me.  I went to my hairdresser and got it shaved to even it up a bit, and while she was doing this, I could see my hair falling around me, I just burst into tears.  She held me.  I thought I was strong, I thought I could handle it, but I just crumbled.

My CA125 at its highest was around 86, and is now around 6.  I was monitored every three months, then every six.  I had a Clinical Nurse Specialist who was very nice and supportive.

Now, I’m as well as can be, and have been in remission for 8 years now.  I had a dream to run the London Marathon one day.  Some people thought I was crazy, but I did fulfill my dream and completed the London Marathon in 2014, and raised money for Ovacome to support women just like me.

I prayed for strength to get me through each day.  The prayers of others, support from my family, my church, my friends and work colleagues all helped to get me through.

Also, it was my mother’s insistence, early diagnosis and treatment that gave me a better chance of recovery.

I advise anyone going through cancer to remain positive and hopeful, embrace the good days, live life and enjoy every opportunity it brings.

2022 update

I have now been in remission for 12 years.