Published January 2022

My story began in 1991 when I had an ectopic pregnancy (where a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes). The blocked fallopian tube was removed during emergency surgery but I was pleased to learn that both of my ovaries were intact.

However, in 1996 I had to have a hysterectomy because of fibroids. I thought I was being clever by asking for my ovaries to be taken out - I knew that HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) could be prescribed to combat the menopause symptoms and felt that I would be protected from ovarian cancer by having them removed. I was 46 and I had watched two of my close friends die from ovarian cancer. I had Estraderm patches (a form of HRT containing the hormone oestrogen) for 16 years and felt great.

Fast forward 24 years to March 2020. We were on holiday in Cornwall with the family to celebrate my 70th birthday and I was experiencing sharp pain in my right abdomen, which then moved to the left side. I contacted my GP (it was the start of the Covid-19 pandemic) who suggested that it would be unwise to go to hospital, but gave me powder for constipation (which I didn’t have?). After a further couple of unbearable, painful weeks I contacted 111 and was advised to call my GP. Fortunately, I saw a doctor in the practice who quickly arranged for me to be seen at hospital with suspected appendicitis.

A CT scan revealed lots of growths on my omentum (the layer of fatty tissue that surrounds the abdominal organs) and I was then referred to the MDT (multi-disciplinary team). An ultrasound-guided biopsy proved to be inconclusive and so I then had a biopsy under general anaesthetic. All this took several weeks because of Covid protocols, it was an unbearable and worrying time.

Eventually, I was told via telephone that I had ovarian cancer but at least with a diagnosis, I now had access to a cancer nurse for answers. Two days later I was called into clinic and told that my cancer was extensive. I was offered the chance of undergo ultra-radical surgery which was a foreign language to me but given the urgency ( I was told “we have a window”) I agreed. The surgeon warned me of the dangers. I was in shock, however I was aware that they were prepared to open up surgery just for me, which had been on hold for months because of Covid.

On 27 July 2020 I had the surgery which lasted for 10 hours, I am told. My colon was removed (I now have a stoma) together with some of my small intestine, spleen, omentum and peritoneum  and several other bits and bobs. I was then kept in an induced coma and spent a week in ICU. Several weeks later I started six rounds of chemotherapy and I am followed up three-monthly in clinic following a CT scan.

My last scan showed no sign of ascites (fluid build-up) in my abdomen and all my bloods were in the normal range and so I am in remission!

My diagnosis is stage 3 low grade serous primary peritoneal cancer and I am now on a maintenance drug letrozole.

Ultra-radical surgery is not for the faint-hearted, but I have been so fortunate in being referred to one of the few centres in the country who have the expertise to do this. I am overwhelmed that a team of people were prepared to invest so much of their time and expertise in me, a stranger to them. It has been a humbling experience, I have seen the NHS at its very best.