Pictured centre. Story first published October 2018, updated January 2022.

Hello, I’m Mary. I was diagnosed with what was described as “at least” stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2011, at the age of 55. I married my long-term partner Darren shortly after my diagnosis. I don’t have any children but I am close to my stepson Neil who is now grown up.

I had taken early retirement from my job as an NHS manager at a large London teaching hospital trust in February 2011. I had been feeling tired for quite a while and put this down to having a stressful job and the fact that I was going through a long drawn out menopause. I was also experiencing mild abdominal pain but assumed that was also a symptom of the menopause and I thought I would feel less exhausted after a few months rest.

By June I felt more tired than ever and started to have attacks of diarrhoea after eating. I also seemed to be putting on weight around the middle. I was surprised because I hadn’t been eating much recently as my appetite had decreased. I started to feel anxious because I did know that I had two symptoms of ovarian cancer.  I was also aware that I had an increased risk because I’d never been pregnant.

In mid-July I had an emergency appointment with my GP who thought I probably had an unsettled stomach but said it would be a good idea to do a CA125 blood test to see if there was any indication of ovarian cancer. She also said she’d be happy to send me for a scan even if the CA125 fell within the normal range (i.e up to 35).

The test came back at 1255 and although my GP explained that this didn’t necessarily mean cancer but I was sure it was because my symptoms matched. I also guessed that because my symptoms were pronounced that it was probably late stage.

After an ultrasound scan at the beginning of August I met my gynae/oncology consultant for the first time. Following that, I also had a CT scan and was then admitted to hospital in September for a biopsy and drainage of ascites, the fluid surrounding the tumours– by that time I was enormous! The biopsy report confirmed that I had stage 4 ovarian cancer with secondaries in the omentum, lymph nodes and spleen. The omentum is a fatty layer over the abdominal organs that most people don’t know they have. I also had fluid in the lining of the lungs which explained why I’d been short of breath recently. After the drainage, I felt more comfortable though I did suffer a few bouts of vomiting, something I got used to over the next few months.

I was told that the best plan was for me to have three cycles of chemo – carboplatin and paclitaxel – before surgery, and another three cycles afterwards.

Darren and I managed to squeeze in our wedding three days before my first chemo cycle. I wore a dress from M&S three sizes bigger than usual. The drainage had reduced the bloat but it still didn’t feel like my body so I wasn’t prepared to splash out on an expensive outfit. I felt as if I was choosing a dress for another person. I cried when I promised to look after Darren in sickness and in health because I didn’t think I would ever get the chance.

I had chemo every three weeks and although I felt awful for several days afterwards, it seemed to be working. After the first cycle my CA125 came down to 705 and my tummy started to get smaller.

My hair started to fall out after the first cycle and so Darren shaved it off for me. I relied on my wig and eyebrow pencil and eyeliner to transform me into someone I recognised.

During my second chemo session I started to feel sick and dizzy and what I always describe as silver Christmas tree baubles started to float in front of my eyes. I vomited and the chemo was halted and I was given hydrocortisone. I was scared that I might not be able to continue but after 30 minutes chemo was restarted and I didn’t have any more reactions.

After the third cycle I had a CT scan which showed significant improvement and I was now ready for surgery. This took place in November 2011 and I had a hysterectomy, removal of the ovaries, omentum, lymph nodes and spleen. Because I no longer have a spleen I am vulnerable to chest diseases and so I take a low dose of antibiotics every day as a preventative.

The surgeon came to see me the morning after the operation and said he couldn’t be more pleased. Almost all the tumours had disappeared and even the ones that remained – on the spleen – had reduced in size. I had a bit of trouble with nausea and vomiting and felt weak but I made a good recovery and was discharged a week later.

I resumed chemo at the beginning of December. I continued to suffer nausea, insomnia etc each time but the end was in sight. I had my last chemo on 23 January 2012 and a scan in February showed no abnormality. I was told by my oncologist that although no one could promise that it wouldn’t reoccur, I should live my life on the assumption that it wouldn’t, otherwise I’d be paralysed. For me personally, that turned out to be very good advice.

It is now more than six years since I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and I now have follow up appointments every 12 months. However, I did get a shock in October 2015 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily this turned out to be lobular breast cancer – the less aggressive kind – and was caught at stage 2 and hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes. I had a lumpectomy and radiotherapy and it hasn’t felt anything like the ordeal I had with ovarian cancer.  After this diagnosis I was tested for the BRCA gene mutation but that was negative.

So that’s where I am today.  Last September Darren and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, one important date that I didn’t expect to see.

2022 update

In May last year, almost 10 years after diagnosis I was discharged from the ovarian cancer follow-up clinic. Something to celebrate!