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

I was 22 years old, 3 years into a relationship and I was working in Asda supermarket. I started to lose weight which was unexplained but being a fuller figure girl, instead of being concerned I was quite happy. I then began suffering with cystitis, however I was not having the stinging sensation, just the urge to pass urine more frequently, but then having the inability to completely empty my bladder instead. I visited my doctor on several occasions and each time I was prescribed antibiotics, which had no effect. My GP at the time basically said that he had tried everything. I began to feel like a fraud, as if my GP did not believe what I was saying. I therefore did not return and just continued to suffer in hope that it would go away.

One particular day, I had a flare up of my gallstones, I was due in work and knew that if I did not have a doctor’s note, that I would receive a warning. I attended my local hospital, where I had an ultrasound which identified that I had a cyst on my ovary. Several months later, whilst visiting my GP, I asked whether the cyst on my ovary was the reason why I had not yet conceived. My partner and I were not trying as such, however I really wanted to become a mother at some point, so my partner and I had agreed that if I fell pregnant then great. I informed the GP that we had stopped using contraception over a year ago, so I was just wondering if the cyst on my ovary could prevent me from conceiving. I was referred to a gynaecologist for removal of the cyst and underwent a laparoscopy.

I remember being back on the ward and the doctor said he would wait for my mum and partner to come in to tell me how everything went. When they arrived, the doctor sat down with us as explained that he had taken a biopsy as he believed that the cyst was in fact a tumour. I remember one nurse crying. I was discharged and had to attend an outpatient’s appointment with the same doctor the next day. It was at this appointment that he confirmed that it was ovarian cancer. He explained that the cancer was the reason for the symptoms that I had. I was then referred to a professor at a hospital in Cardiff.

I had an examination in Cardiff and they explained that I would need a hysterectomy however, they were going to operate by opening from my belly button down so that they could investigate if I just needed the one ovary removed as they had in mind that I had no children. I had to consent for a total hysterectomy should they need to. After coming around from the surgery, I was informed that, they had to perform a total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. After recovering from the operation, I then started 6 months of chemotherapy once every 3 weeks (carboplatin and paclitaxel). During my first session I used the ice cap in the attempt to save my hair. however it fell out in chunks not long afterwards, along with the rest of my body hair, eyelashes and eyebrows.

I no longer felt like a woman, depression started to creep in along with the menopause. I decided to try and do something positive, so I arranged a fundraiser for the hospital where I was treated, which was held at the pub that my parents run. We raised £3000.

I remained in remission and attended appointments for about 10 years, due to my age.

My friends then started to settle down and have children, which would make me feel extremely jealous. My relationship ended.  Not long after, I began to feel depressed again and started having anxiety attacks. I am 36 now and still suffer with it. I am on 40mg of citalopram daily, and whereas this does help with the attacks, it does not help with the thoughts. Every single day, I get thoughts that something bad is going to happen to me. I fear death or death of my family. Every little pain is something more serious. The slightest ache in my back is a heart attack, a sore throat is throat cancer etc. I am too scared to go on holidays or far from home as I fear something may happen to me. I now opt for spa days with friends where I can have a massage and some time out relaxing, knowing I am not too far from home.

After my previous relationship, I had met a new partner who I spent several years with but that broke down. I fear meeting someone new as I have to explain that I cannot start a family with them. Also, my body confidence is diminished as I’m overweight and have the scar down my abdomen from my operation, which had got infected at the time, so it’s quite an eyesore. I have to choose particular clothes to hide certain parts of my body that cause me sheer embarrassment from the weight gain.

On a more positive note, when my friends were becoming mothers, I decided I needed to do something to occupy myself, so I enrolled on an Access to Healthcare course in college. I am now in my 2nd year of my nursing degree at university and will qualify as nurse in just over a year. Trying to juggle my degree along with my anxiety is hard, however university gives me something to focus on and without it I think my mental health would be a whole lot worse. Compared to when I first went back into education I have seen somewhat of an improvement in my mental health and confidence. I do find however, that even though my university friends know about my anxiety and are supportive, I feel a bit detached, as I often put off social gatherings. I feel that they are young, fit and healthy and I feel older than I am and just deflated.

I fought the cancer and I will try my hardest to fight this anxiety. There is currently a 2-year waiting list for counselling on the NHS, however I have just been informed that I can speak to someone at Ovacome regarding my anxiety, which is music to my ears and I will certainly be taking up this opportunity. Thank you.

2022 update

I qualified as a nurse in 2019 and since have done the SACT (Systemic Anti-Cancer Therapy) qualification. I am now an oncology/chemotherapy nurse administering chemotherapy to patients in their own homes. Having been through the journey myself, my patients find it comforting to know that I can truly empathise with them. I feel that my journey has placed me in the perfect position to be able to give the best possible care to my patients.